Thursday, June 21, 2012

Total Fail: Crockpot Orange Chicken

My crockpot hates me.

I don't know what it is.* Everyone else in the entire world seems to be able to use crockpots to make super easy, super yummy dinners while they work.

I can use crockpots to make disgusting disasters that make the whole house smell like burning.

Sure, sometimes I meet with success in a crockpot venture; I've made tasty Party Pulled Pork in it, and it's always good for a round of queso. But more often than not, something goes wrong: it burns (how does that even happen?), it doesn't cook, the flavors fail to meld.

I tried to make crockpot orange chicken on Wednesday. My parents and brother were in from out of town. I have fond memories of visiting a certain restaurant and everyone ordering orange chicken when I was younger, and I wanted to cook a meal at home since I know it's expensive and boring to eat out all the time while you're traveling.

I got up early Wednesday to brown the chicken and put everything together, set the crockpot on low, and headed off to work...

...only to return home to a house smelling of burnt orange juice and a crockpot caked in sticky, charred lumps of chicken that I haven't yet been able to clean out.

I don't understand why something so simple always goes so wrong, when I can pull off all sorts of more complicated cookery with ease on the first try.

But about the only thing I think my crockpot is good for anymore is queso. I give up.

*Okay, I sort of know. I have one of those basic cheapo crockpots that just has "Low" or "High" settings, and the Low setting is apparently more powerful than that on a) older crockpots and b) fancy crockpots with more specific settings. So I can't actually leave it cooking most dishes for a full workday (8-9 hours).

But what is even the point? I'm at work 5-6 hours before dinner time. How am I supposed to start a dinner then? Also, sometimes the problem is too little liquid (part of the problem, maybe, with the chicken today?), but sometimes it's too much liquid, and then it ends up flavorless.

I'm well aware that I could take the time to trouble-shoot and probably make improvements to the process. But the crockpot is supposed to make meal-making simpler and more convenient, and instead it invariably just complicates my life.

Does anyone have any crockpot tips for me? When have your special dinner plans gone wrong?
Most importantly, does anyone have a tasty, successful recipe for orange chicken???

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What's Cooking

So sorry for the lack of updates lately.

Morning sickness knocked me to my knees (literally) and I ate nothing but saltine crackers for about two months.

I'm feeling much better and we are eating Real Meals again, but because standing over a hot stove still makes me faint and queasy, the DDH has been cooking more often. This means we're eating well, but unfortunately I'm really bad about recording those recipes or photodocumenting what he's doing.

Now we have house guests, and we leave next week for a family reunion. Exciting stuff, but again, not very conducive to food blogging!

I have a few ideas kicking around and hopefully will be able to schedule a post or two while we're gone. But if not, or even if so, you can expect a more regular schedule beginning in July. I have lots of exciting (to me, anyway) ideas for stuff to do with this little blog! Thank you for your patience in the meantime.

Eat well,


Friday, June 15, 2012

Egg-Free Cookie Dough

I like cookies.

I do. I prefer them to cake, for instance. There are few things more indulgently delectable than a chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven, served with a tall glass of milk (or bowl of vanilla ice cream).

But do you know what I honestly sort of like more than cookies?

Cookie dough.

Yes. My cookie recipes never make quite as many cookies as advertised, because I eat several cookies' worth of dough.

I do not discriminate in my love of raw baked goods--my brownie pan is never quite as full as it should be by the time I'm done spooning tastes out of the batter, and cake batter is far, far superior in every way to finished cake.

I tend to pooh-pooh my way past raw egg warnings. Doughs and batters, fresh Caesar salad dressing and homemade mayonnaise--I enjoy them all with nary a thought to spare for food poisoning.

Now that I'm pregnant, however, I have resigned myself to a more cautious approach to food. Goodbye, alcohol; goodbye, sushi; goodbye, cookie dough.

Until the internet graced me with a recipe for egg-free dough, of course.

Yes, please.
Egg-Free Cookie Dough
Adapted from this recipe at; this recipe from Love & Olive Oil is similar, but requires more ingredients and I haven't actually bothered with it yet. Note that normal people use these recipes to form adorable little cookie dough balls that they drizzle/coat in chocolate and serve on fancy platters at parties. I just stick the bowl of dough in my fridge to eat as the mood strikes me.

Soften 1 cup (two sticks) butter by leaving it out on the counter for an hour, or hacking at it with a knife for fifteen minutes, or, if you like to live life on the edge, microwaving in 5-10 second intervals.

I bought a one pound block of butter from a local dairy,
so it wasn't in neat little sticks. If you, too, lack stick butter,
remember that 1 pound = 2 cups = 4 sticks.
So this is a half pound of butter (aka 1 cup aka 2 sticks)
 in pieces that I hacked apart and weighed on my kitchen scale.
You should be able to easily leave a thumbprint in softened butter, but it should not be in any way melty or liquid.

Put your butter in a large mixing bowl, one that will happily accommodate a beater. A deep bowl is a good idea, as butter and sugar in a wide, shallow bowl will go flinging about your kitchen and into your hair. Not that I know this from personal experience or anything.

Add to your butter 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar.

Sugar and butter.
Cream your butter and sugar together. This means beat it with your beater until it's a creamy, coherent substance. The DDH is exceptionally good at this, and the batch he made was smoother and more delightful than the one I did. I tend to get impatient and stop before everything is really and truly creamed, leading to a grainier (and, after being refrigerated, harder) finished dough.

This is okay, but another two minutes would make it better.
Add 1 tsp. vanilla extract

and 1 1/2 to 2 cups flour. I add a cup, mix it in, then add more until it's the consistency I like. When you're making dough to bake, you want to be careful not to overmix the flour, as this will make for tough cookies. But if you're just eating the dough, it doesn't matter as much.

Once your dough is mixed and the consistency you like,

add 1 to 2 cups chocolate chips. In other words, add chocolate chips to taste, or according to how big your chips are or how many you have left.

This is a bit less than a cup of chips.
Mix together and enjoy!

No need for baking.
The dough will keep in the fridge for a week or so, not that it's ever stuck around that long at my house. To help keep your leftovers soft, press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the dough.

You can of course form this dough into balls, drizzle and coat with chocolate, and take them to a fancy party.

But I won't tell if you just eat it all with a spoon straight from the bowl. ;-)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Potato Gyros



Last night's dinner was a supreme victory. Refreshing, filling, delicious, cheap.

AND I actually (sort of) made a recipe I pinned on Pinterest. Aren't you proud of me?

Let me tell you that the biggest problem with these vegetarian gyros is that they will make you want a real gyro. There's just something about that weird lamb-loaf meat in a good gyro that beats vegetables every time.

Still, if you lack a rotating vertical spit and a giant hunk of mysterious meat, try these babies with whatever summer vegetables you have lying around.

Perhaps not the most flattering picture. But trust me.
You can think me later when you're mouth's not full.

Potato Gyros
Adapted from this recipe at Offbeat Home, which looks delicious just the way it is.

Take some potatoes. The original recipe called for four medium-sized white potatoes; as you can see, I'm using a few more but smaller red potatoes. Any potatoes will do, though thicker-skinned baking potatoes may need to be peeled.

Place them in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and boil about twenty minutes or until easily pierced with a fork.

Drain and let dry.

While potatoes are cooking (or afterward if you decide to go fold laundry take a nap instead), preheat your grill (if you plan to add grilled vegetables to your gyros) and make your tzatziki (cucumber yogurt sauce).

In a medium bowl, add 1 cup yogurt or generous 1/2 cup Greek yogurt,

A little more than 1/2 cup Greek yogurt.
1/3 cucumber (grated),

For reference: whole cucumber.

How much I grated, on the coarse side of the box grater.

1-3 cloves garlic (Note: I like raw garlic. A lot. I used three cloves. But my Facebook status the next day was "I love the feeling of garlic seeping from my pores." So if you don't love that lovely feeling, just use one or two cloves),

Vampires, beware!
1 Tbs. lemon juice, (and a teaspoon of zest if you're using a fresh lemon), and salt and pepper to taste.

Almost tzatziki.
Mix well.

Finished tzatziki.

If you would like to top your gyros with the traditional tomatoes and onions, I advise you slice them around now.

We branched out (no tomatoes yet in Tulsa) and grilled up some summer squash:

Slice summer squash or zucchini lengthwise so it can go in your gyro like a pickle.

Squash spears.
Coat in olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Seasoned squash spears.
Either pop them in your grill basket or wipe your grill grates down with olive oil and stick the squash directly on the grate. Cook on the preheated grill at about medium/medium-high heat for about ten minutes.

Just about any grilled vegetable would go well here: summer squash/zucchini, cherry tomatoes, corn, onions. Toss what you've got on the grill and give it a try.

Once your potatoes are done cooking, drained, and dryish, you want to season them.

In a large bowl, gather your potato seasonings: 3-4 oz. Feta cheese, crumbled,

Not-yet-crumbled feta.
parsley to taste (I used a mix of fresh and dried; fresh obviously has a stronger flavor),


To give you an idea how much I used.
1-3 cloves garlic (see note, above), approximately 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper to taste.

Pepper, salt, garlic, cayenne.
Mix those all together, making sure the feta is well crumbled.

Crumbled feta mixture.
Add your potatoes.

Mash potatoes into mixture until thoroughly combined.

These would be great just as mashed potatoes, actually.
Take a tortilla or pita bread. Scoop a few tablespoons of potato mixture onto the tortilla. Add a couple slices of squash or your other grilled/fresh vegetables. Top with a liberal dollop of tzatziki.

Topped tortilla.
Roll and enjoy.

Dinner is served.
Okay, this is a vegetarian meal, so that means: What did the DDH think?

Well, first he kept saying that it tasted fine, but now he just wanted a real gyro. By the time he got to his second, though, he said that once you got over that, the potato gyros were quite delicious as their own dish. He thought two of them were reasonably filling, and he didn't follow it up with a bowl of cereal.

Definitely a keeper (the recipe. and the husband).

Monday, June 4, 2012

Grill-Roasted Potatoes

You can't go too wrong with roasted potatoes.

They're simple, easy, and relatively tasty. They're flexible--toss some other veggies in with them, or nestle them around a chicken in the oven. Change up the flavor by changing up the spices.

Roasted food in general is a great winter comfort food. Root vegetables and meat, seasoned and cooked in the oven--warm, filling food, with a bonus of a warmer kitchen from your nice hot oven.

But in the summer? The last thing I want to do is turn on the oven. Other than stints making breads and granola bars, the thing sits off all summer long. It's hot enough in my house already.

Still, those same root vegetables start showing up at the market around this time of year. Not the big, cured, storage versions, but the fun little new versions. Fingerling potatoes and little bite-size potatoes in all kinds of colors are hard to resist--but how do you cook a vegetable that normally spends a good long time in a hot oven or on a hot stove if you're trying to keep the kitchen cool?

The same way you cook everything else in summertime: On the grill.

Grill-roasted potatoes go perfectly with a spicy grilled pork chop.
This recipe keeps it simple. Toss chopped or bite-size potatoes with olive oil and some seasonings and grill until tasty.

You can mix it up however you like. Add in carrots or turnips or, toward the end of the cooking time, summer squash and cherry tomatoes. Experiment with the heat of your grill and grilling time, working to get softer or crispier potatoes. Change up the seasonings so your potatoes become the basis for a Mexican papas dish or a warm German potato salad. 

One caveat: Although you can fiddle with foil and successfully bake or roast potatoes and the like on a grill, life is much, much easier if you have a grill basket. A grill basket is just a metal (usually stainless steel or coated aluminum) basket that holds food that would otherwise slip through the grill slats. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, and having this one little piece of equipment will make it much easier to grill a variety of foods (and thus make it much more likely that you'll actually use that grill you paid so much money for).

Basic Grill-Roasted Potatoes
These instructions assume you have a gas grill and a grill basket. If you have a charcoal grill, I'm going to assume you know how to use it. I don't, so I'm not going to give you instructions. If you lack a grill basket, you can make an impromptu one by taking a large sheet of foil and crinkling it up around the sides to hold your potatoes. I recommend doubling the foil to help forestall tragic rips.

Start your grill preheating by turning the gas up to Sear and leaving the lid closed.

Take some potatoes. These are new red potatoes; look for fun varieties like bite-sized purple-skinned potatoes, or long, crooked fingerling potatoes. If the potatoes are small enough, just wash and leave them whole. Bigger potatoes should be cut into bite-size pieces. Either way, leave the skins on--it saves you time and makes your dish a healthier one (most of the vitamins and minerals in potatoes are found in the skins).

New red potatoes.

Put your potatoes in a large bowl, preferably one with a lid.


Drizzle them with olive oil. A little goes a long way, and it's easier to add more than to take oil out.

Olive oil is hard to see on wet potatoes.

Sprinkle with dried or fresh herbs or spices of your choice. Here, I used about 1 Tbs. dried oregano and 2 tsp. salt.

Herby potatoes.

Put the lid on the bowl and shake until the potatoes are thoroughly coated. If you lack a lidded bowl, toss with a spoon until well mixed.

All shook up.

Place a grill basket on a rimmed cookie sheet or other platter to catch the drips.

Put your oiled and seasoned potatoes in the basket.

All the potatoes in one basket.

Assuming your grill has been heating for at least ten minutes, put the basket (sans cookie sheet; that's just for carrying so you don't drip olive oil all over the floor, your clothes, your shoes, the tops of the dogs' heads...not that I speak from personal experience or anything) on the grill.

Close the lid and turn down the heat to about medium high.

Check your potatoes after about ten minutes. Adjust your grill's temperature and cook longer using your discretion. If they're rock hard, keep them in another ten minutes; if they're getting close, check after maybe only five minutes. Spike the temperature when the potatoes are almost done to get some of them nice and crispy; keep it low and slow for creamier potatoes.

Cooked and tasty.

This really is a fairly flexible and forgiving dish, perfect for grilling newbies. Our latest adventure with grill-roasted potatoes went thusly: We started the potatoes on Sear (because I just stuck them in while it was preheating for some reason). The DDH found them when he went to put the pork chops on after eight minutes and some had already burned. He moved them to the cooler side of the grill, turned down the heat, and after another ten minutes they were mostly done. I would have left them on another five minutes, since I like crispy things, but the DDH disagreed, so off they came.

The one at top left looks about right to me.

There you go. Now get grilling!


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