A Gamer’s Rant

While browsing restaurant info on the omaha.com site (we’re planning on giving gift cards someplace new to Mike’s parents for Christmas), I stumbled across a link for hot holiday games. I didn’t really need to click on the link…I wasn’t buying games for anyone and I had a feeling I knew what games would be on that list, but my curiosity got the better of me and I clicked it.

What I saw made the journalism grad and gamer in me cringe. A lot.

The article was so poorly written. It reminded me of the writing exercises we did in my final journalism class where we got 10 minutes to write about a topic with little information. If I had handed it in to my professor, I would have been in major trouble. Another major flaw was how the article was formatted. The sections were a great idea and had a lot of potential, but whoever uploaded it and approved it should have double checked to make sure the sections and all the headers didn’t run together (ex: the info about Dishonored and that weird, lonely word at the end–zombies).

I am not a published journalist who has written for a major publication and I am not a hardcore gamer by any means. Sure I played a bit back in the day when I was a kid, but my buttony skills faded as time went on.

But, when you date and live with a gamer, you eventually become a gamer again. One who plays the same more serious games other gamers play (Gears of War and Halo versus Viva Pinata and Kinectimals–not that Viva Pinata and Kinectimals aren’t seriously awesome). Then you move into the big leagues and get invited to join LAN parties and actually play instead of watching for four or five hours and are actually able to be a helpful teammate. And if you don’t become a gamer, you know a ton about the world of gaming, whether it’s when games come out, where to look for reviews or who is offering the best pre-order bonuses.

I can kind of overlook the awkward writing, but I really couldn’t get over the reviews for the games. I can understand the writer might not have time or access to try any of the games out beforehand, but if all you’re going to do is basically copy and paste descriptions from sites dedicated to gaming, like IGN, at least use the good stuff. The majority of the reviews make the games sound very generic–and in some cases, downright dull. Who on earth wants to buy a dull game?

And for goodness’ sake, double check your facts (you’re not “getting” birds in Angry Birds Star Wars, you’re “getting” pigs). You would honestly learn more from the back of the box of the actual game and no gamer in their right mind would find the information useful. I was also surprised there wasn’t any mention of which platforms you could play them on or what they were rated–very important things for parents to know before buying one for their kids.

The “review” of Halo 4 is pulled directly from IGN, but it still failed on pointing out the biggest feature of the game: Master Chief is back. I mean, c’mon, Master Chief has been in a cryo-sleep for five looooong years and you can’t add a few words to pointing this out?!

The “review” that really set this whole rant in motion was for Borderlands 2. I have played countless hours of Borderlands 2. Heck, thanks to the sweet DLC (that’s extra content like new maps or challenges you can download) and various characters to play as, I’m still playing it.

The review reads as: “Borderlands 2 — The Borderlands are a crazy place for any adventurer, but you’ll make it through with the crazy amount of available weaponry.”

What a way to get your reader’s attention, then leave them hanging and probably pretty confused. Yes, The Borderlands is a crazy place for you to explore, but it doesn’t tell me anything about the game. Why is it such a crazy place? Why would I be wandering around the world, exploring? What kinds of weapons are there–like the ones I can find in other shooters? What do I need all these weapons for, anyway? Why is it called Borderlands 2–should I play the first one before this one?

So, what should a proper review of Borderlands 2 look like? Like these:
The Smoking Section
PC Gamer

This might be one of the few, if not only, ranting posts on my blog. I figured I’d forget all about the topic and carry on with life, but after a busy holiday season, it was still nagging me and I knew I better write about it. Mike deserves some credit for telling me I could and would have done a much better job reviewing the games.

I was also encouraged by another blogger, Ash Paulsen. His blog, The Optimistic Gamer chooses to focus on the positives of games, regardless if they’re developed by major studios or independently. He reminds you it’s totally acceptable to like a game just because you enjoy playing it. After all, that’s the reason people play. Sure, there’s flaws in every game and everyone has their own idea of what makes a game fun or good. Just because the critics hate it doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it.

Until I get my character to level 50 (that’s the maximum for now), or try out the two DLC packs that are out now, writing my own review would feel incomplete, so I will post one in the future. It will also give me more time to play with Mike and one of our friends, allowing me to give some insight to their characters and playing in a group.

Thanks for bearing with me and my rant. I promise my upcoming posts will be back to normal 🙂


Best of 2012: Food

This year I branched out and sharpened my cooking and baking skills. I’ve always enjoyed watching cooking programs and learning about new ingredients and recipes, but this year it went from “oh, that looks like it would be good” or “so that’s how you use that/that’s what that is” to actually incorporating the ingredients, techniques and recipes into my life.

More people have asked me for advice or questions about food and it’s been pretty awesome to share what I’ve learned. I’ve had my share of food related disasters, so if I can help someone prevent them or become more interested in food, I’m all for it! For example, my mom mentioned she made a batch of chocolate cookies and just used the cocoa powder instead of the of Dutch process cocoa she’s had for a while. I was able to tell her the difference between the two and why you can’t swap them out (Dutch cocoa has a neutral pH so it can’t be used in recipes with baking soda, which relies on the acid to activate it).

I’ve had lots of tasty encounters with food, but here are the most memorable ones:

Bacon: I love bacon. A lot. Possibly too much, at least according to others. Bacon seemed to appear in almost every area of life, from fashion (the insanely expensive and lifelike bacon scarf) to desserts (Burger King’s bacon sundae) to the possible “aporkalypse,” which didn’t happen (thank goodness!!!). I didn’t think I could love bacon more than I do, but I was wrong.

One of my good friends, Justin, took me to Frank Stoysich Meats on Q Street in Omaha to pick up some homemade sausages. While we waited for the woman to gather his order, we noticed a slab of bacon in the case. Knowing I like bacon, he generously bought me a pound. I decided to fry some for breakfast so I took out the normal amount of six slices and put ’em in the frying pan. I noticed it wasn’t nearly as fatty as other bacon-something I’d never really seen before. That first taste was heavenly. The flavor was much more meaty and pure. Even Mike was impressed. We ate our three slices each, but it was so much more filling than store bought bacon, we would have been satisfied with just two each. From that moment on, I was hooked on the Stoysich bacon. I rationed what we had left, using it for “special” times. Since then, every time Justin is in town, we stop in and get more. It is actually much cheaper to buy the super tasty bacon than store bacon, and since we don’t need as much, it lasts muuuuch longer. Even the bacon fat, which takes longer to stockpile, tastes better.

German chocolate: My mom and I lived in Germany when I was little. I have fond memories of many of the places we visited (the Christmas marketplace) as well as lots of their foods (Butterkäse, Schneebälle), but German chocolate holds a special place in my heart. When we paid our rent, the landlady would always give me a few pieces of chocolate shaped like cute little ladybugs. Once she discovered how much I loved it, she started leaving a small bowlful out in front of their door. German chocolate doesn’t taste like chocolates you can find in the U.S. or most of the chocolate I’ve tried from Britain. The “real deal “is pretty hard to find in stores, so when I found some in ALDI, I was ecstatic and shocked. Once I confirmed they were legit, I stocked up. I was even able to find an advent calendar. As soon as we got to the car, I unwrapped one and popped it in my mouth and instantly felt like I was back in Germany, enjoying my candy on our steps while I admired the geraniums in all the window boxes.

Cumin: I am not very knowledgeable with spices used outside of baking. I try to keep the basics for cooking on hand, but if a recipe that I haven’t tried yet calls for something I don’t have, I usually just leave it out. Not the best idea, I know, but I don’t really want to buy it then hate it and have wasted the money. Plus, if I’ve had a dish in the past that was awful, I tend to remember the spices in a not so flattering way. Cumin was one of those spices. I had it in an Indian dish that was loaded with cumin and who knows what else and it was so spicy, I decided to avoid it from then on. However, I had saved a few recipes from Martha Stewart and both of them used cumin. I was skeptical, but after reading reviews and seeing a handful of people note even their picky children loved the taste, I added cumin to the list. The amounts used in each recipe was so small, I figured if I didn’t like the flavor, next time I made it, I could adjust as needed. To my amazement, I have learned to love cumin. I think cumin is the first spice not used in baking that I’ve actually had to run out and replace. It does have a distinct, fairly strong flavor and smell, but in certain recipes, it doesn’t seem overpowering. I am much more open minded to try recipes that have less common spices and have started to add some to my spice rack I never thought I’d buy.

Leeks: I am so bummed I didn’t try leeks sooner. I am not an onion person, but I do like the subtle flavor they add to dishes, but I always assumed leeks had a harsher onion flavor and had no clue how to cook them so I avoided them. I started to change my mind after seeing various British chefs use them on TV and in their cookbooks for their mild flavor. Once I did a search for recipes using leeks, I realized everyone knew how tasty they could be. As I mentioned in a previous post, leeks are quite a pain to clean, but so worth it. I know leeks, cream and bacon are a wonderful combination, but I’m looking forward to trying them thinly sliced in salads or a frittata as well as in stews.

Pan roasting: I can’t believe I didn’t attempt to try pan roasting sooner, and I can’t believe it isn’t a skill taught in every cookbook. If you aren’t familiar with this technique, Google it and give it a try. It is unbelievably quick (you can have dinner done in under an hour), easy and seriously tasty. I think the word “roasting” scared me away, especially since I wasn’t too successful roasting whole chickens in the past.

Pan roasting consists of two steps: first, searing off the meat in some oil, then finished in an oven.  We eat a ton of chicken in our household and pan roasting has turned chicken from ordinary and boring to something flavorful. I have become a pro at roasting chicken parts, mainly legs and bone-in thighs, which has saved us a bunch of money (who doesn’t love that?). Pan roasting is a great way to make vegetables more exciting, too. I LOVE to roast potatoes–they satisfy my cravings for French fries without adding lots of extra fat. Other favorite vegetables to roast include carrots, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, onions and squashes. I suggest making more than you need; leftover roasted veggies are delicious mixed into cooked rice, on bread with a bit of goat cheese or reheated in the oven for another meal. Plus, you usually only have to use one pan, which means less time doing dishes and more time doing fun stuff!

Everyday Food Magazine: In the fall, Martha Stewart announced how Everyday Food was published would be changing. The magazine’s last stand alone issue would be December, and would instead be a supplement to Martha Stewart Living. I subscribe to MSL and I enjoy all the crafts and looking at the fancy recipes, but I love Everyday Food much more. The recipes were much easier to make, the ingredients were easier to find and it was one of the few publications that included recipes for one or two people. I’m interested to see what the supplement will look like, and I do appreciate the daily emails sent out, but I’m old fashioned: I like to have a hard copy of the recipe in front of me!

Cooking without a recipe: When I try a brand new recipe, I tend to follow the directions to the letter. If it’s tasty enough to make again, then I’ll make adjustments as needed, but I am not so great at making something up from scratch (especially when all I have to work with is what we’ve got in the house). I’ve watched hours of cooking shows like Chopped, so you’d think I’d be fearless enough to just go for it.

Sure, I tend to keep emergency meals on hand like mac and cheese or frozen pizzas, but sometimes I just can’t face a premade meal. Thanks to spending hefty amounts of time out of state, I usually come home to an interesting selection of ingredients I’m kind of forced to use until we can make it to the store.

My favorite no recipe meal would be a frittata. We always have eggs on hand and with a bit of hunting, I can find enough add ins to make a tasty meal (I do bacon, scallion, potato and bell peppers a lot). However, my results don’t always turn out well. The only meal I’ve seriously failed would be the almost cooked bone-in turkey breast. Our fridge had died and by the time we noticed, we had to find fridge and freezer space ASAP. We brought most of food to his parents’ house, but there was no room for the turkey breast so I had to cook it that night. Despite being overly cautious and letting the turkey cook an extra 20 minutes, when we carved it, the meat was raw. I did my best to fix the situation (I threw all the pieces into the gravy I had made from the drippings and finished cooking it in the pan), but it was pretty awful. A more successful (but not by much) recipe: crunchy, spicy mustard chicken legs. We had a bunch of chicken legs that had to be used, so I decided to brush the legs in spicy mustard then coat them in a mix of panko, parsley and a bit of Parmesan. They didn’t taste bad, but the coating didn’t stick as well as I hoped and what did stick didn’t brown enough. I think with a bit more work, it could be another favorite dinner.

Cactus fries: I know you can eat cactus, but I certainly never expected to try them in Nebraska. We met our friend downtown in the Old Market at Roja Mexican Grill & Margarita Bar. Mike and I had already eaten, so we didn’t order anything, but we did try their guacamole (which was free thanks to a check in on FourSquare) and the cactus fries. The fries were lightly coated and fried and they were pretty darn tasty. If you ever see them on a menu, they’re definitely worth a try!

Avocado egg rolls: Last Christmas, Mike’s parents and Mike and I got gift cards to Kona Grill. We went during happy hour, which gave us the chance to try some appetizers at half price (which is a GREAT deal). We decided on the avocado egg rolls with honey-cilantro dipping sauce. I am not a huge fan of avocado, but I must confess I liked these a lot. I was surprised the filling was so soft and creamy and warm-a nice contrast to the crunchy wrapper. They had a bit of onion and bell pepper in them and the dipping sauce added the hint of sweetness they needed. We all liked them so much, I did my best to deconstruct the ingredients so I could try to make them at home.

Supreme: I love grapefruit, but since I don’t have the best grapefruit knife ever (my mom insisted she keep it and sadly, Crate & Barrel doesn’t make them anymore), I usually don’t buy them. The grocery store had samples of some Rio reds out and they were so sweet and juicy I had to buy six. I debated cutting them into wedges like an orange, but I took a chance and looked up segmenting (also called a supreme) citrus fruits. If you attempt this, you’ll need a REALLY sharp paring knife. It looks a lot scarier and harder than it is, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find all sorts uses for the membrane-free sections: tarts, salads, pies, compotes….

Ted & Wally’s wasabi ice cream: If you’ve followed my blog for a bit, you’ll probably know I LOVE Ted & Wally’s Premium Homemade Ice Cream. All of their ice creams (including vegan and diabetic-friendly ), sorbets and yogurts are homemade with fresh, all-natural and usually local) ingredients made the old fashioned way: slow-churned with rock salt. The flavors change daily (or during summer months, hourly) and range from traditional (Dutch chocolate, vanilla, chocolate chip) to unexpected (french toast bacon–it just won the annual Baconraiser competition, blueberry banana, salty seahorse, Monster Energy Drink sorbet, white chocolate caviar). If you think something would make a great ice cream/sorbet/yogurt flavor, they are more than happy to give it a shot.

They’ll let you try as many flavors as you want, but wasabi has to be one of the weirdest ones I’ve ever tried. I don’t like wasabi with sushi so I highly doubted I’d like it in ice cream form, but I couldn’t pass up the chance, especially since it used fresh wasabi instead of the powdered or premade kind. The ice cream itself was a soft, pale green and nice and creamy on your tongue; it was definitely much more muted than eating wasabi normally, but certainly left its trademark spicy punch at the end. It was sweeter than I thought it would be, but I opted to get a different flavor.

Cheddar bacon potato chips: I spent yesterday with my best friend Jill wandering around the Albertville Premium Outlet Mall in Albertville, MN. We initially passed KLN Family Brands, but saw chips in the window and decided to go inside (what can I say, we like to eat). Based in Minnesota, it is their only outlet store and they carry some of their more unique products/flavors. When Jill and I saw the cheddar bacon potato chips, we grabbed a few bags without hesitating. Potatoes, cheese and bacon–how could that be bad? We barely made it out of the store and I had opened my bag and eaten one. Yum. Yummy yum yuuuum. The chips were the perfect blend of smoky bacon flavor and cheese. I let my mom and aunt try some when I got home. Big mistake. They were also hooked. I promptly hid them so I could take them home with me. The salesclerk informed us it was the only place that carried the cheddar bacon or ketchup flavored chips and people come from all over just to buy them in bulk. At $2.50 a bag, I am more than happy to be one of those people.

There are tons of food ideas I didn’t get around to trying this year (making candy, making more pies and breads, making homemade dog treats for Nova, making pasta from scratch), so I am going to make it a point to try them in 2013. Are there any food experiences you enjoyed in 2012? Do you have a favorite ingredient or cooking style you love that you think I should explore?

Conversebear Turns 2!

When I decided to start a blog two years ago, I chose to make it personal. Looking back, my posts have changed a bit in style, but the topics still reflect me and what was going on in my life at the time. I may not post as often as I’d like, but I try to make each post that does get added special and worth the time to read.

I wasn’t too concerned if only my family and close friends read it, so it is quite an honor to have found a wider audience. I truly appreciate everyone who has stopped by to check it out and those who have subscribed or taken time to leave a comment. The comments and subscriptions have led me to some other fascinating blogs and ultimately inspired me not only to keep writing, but how to adapt my blog and make it better.

 Thanks again and I look forward to sharing more of my adventures with you in 2013!

Christmas Cookies

My family has Christmas on Christmas Eve so I got to spend Christmas with my best friend Jill. We always make time to hang out when I’m in town, but this get together was extra special: I was finally able to see her new house and we were going to break in her kitchen and bake up a storm!

Jill’s house had two things I was horribly jealous about: her killer pantry and an oven that also did convection. I ooohed over the oven and excitedly told her to let me know how it works when she uses it. She just laughed, admitted she barely knew how to use the oven on its regular baking settings and that next time I was over I could break in the convection (I’ve already looked up how to cook/bake things that way and bookmarked the pages). I also drooled over her one extra large burner. I have some hefty pans that barely fit on our burners and I’m very curious how hers would handle my pans.

The pantry of my dreams…

Her microwave also does convection

We had some basic cookie supplies, but Jill isn’t as avid a baker as I am so we didn’t have a lot of basic kitchenwares we needed. Thankfully, her parents live five minutes away so we raided her mom’s kitchen and were set!

We initially set up this baking day to make a cookie we’d seen on Pinterest called Meltaways. However, we thought we were short on supplies (extra blocks of room temperature cream cheese) so we went to plan “B:” Betty Crocker cookie mixes in the pouches. I have only used the premade mixes once (I feel if I’m going to make cookies, it’s just as much work to make them from scratch), so I was a bit iffy how they’d taste. I was happy to see all the mixes called for butter (yay!). They were quite easy to make and more importantly, they tasted good. We ended up making one batch of chocolate coated chip cookies and a double batch of mint chip cookies. To make things more festive, we dyed the mint cookies red and green.

The first batch of cookies!

Our very festive mint cookies made the whole kitchen smell wonderful. It was hard to not to eat them by the handful…

We took a quick lunch break and started on the Meltaways. Thanks to her severely shattered iPhone, we’d misread the amount of cream cheese we needed….Oops.

The Meltaways claim they can be made in under an hour and we were able to make them very quickly, but the recipe we used was a little too vague. I mean, they turned out fine, but it would have been helpful to have an idea what the cookies should look and feel like when they’re done (slightly browned on the edges, set in the center, etc.) instead of just 10 to 12 minutes. The recipe calls for pressing the dough with a glass dipped in powdered sugar, but when Jill went to do it, she thought she needed to dust the dough, then press, but I suggested we lightly grease the bottom of the glass with butter, dip it in powdered sugar, press and redip in sugar as needed. She also didn’t know how thick or thin the cookies needed to be when we pressed them. The first couple were too thin, but we got the hang of it.

The ingredients are very basic: flour, powdered sugar, butter, vanilla and cornstarch. Yes, cornstarch. I’ve seen recipes that say to use/add cornstarch to make a softer cookie so I was curious to see what the dough would feel like.

Jill was VERY excited to put her canisters to use, and loves to play with flour (something that started as a child baking with her family)

The second tray of Meltaways

The dough was very soft and felt like a smoother version of play dough. It scooped out into some of the nicest looking rounds of dough I’ve ever seen. Our goal was to dye the dough yellow and do the cream cheese frosting in blue as a nod to Hanukkah, but we were using liquid coloring and our blue wasn’t what we wanted so we did purple. I wasn’t sure how much frosting to put on top, but since the frosting is just powdered sugar, vanilla and cream cheese, I knew it’d be pretty sweet so I went fairly light.

The finished product!

We were so excited to try the Meltaways, but I think all the sugar and junk food we’d eaten earlier in the day ruined our tastebuds because neither of us was too impressed with the cookie. They weren’t bad, but not as magical as we’d hoped. I brought a bunch of cookies home and had my mom and aunt try the Meltaways; they both loved them and thought they were quite tasty. I was planning to try one the following day, but the ladies had eaten all the ones I brought home.

I loved spending the day with Jill and I think it’s one of my favorite Christmas memories to date. I haven’t baked with someone else in aaaaaaaages and I’d forgotten how much fun it is. Even doing the dishes was kind of fun, and I hate doing the clean up!! We don’t know when we’ll be able to get together again, but we’ve already started planning our next baking adventure.

Best & Worst Of 2012: TV

Top ten lists. You see them everywhere in December and they cover virtually every subject you could think of. Best/worst dressed. Top songs. Video games. Celebrity hook ups/break ups/crazy actions. Movies that should have been nominated. Best/worst TV programs.

I watch a lot of TV but unlike most people I probably watch the weirdest variety of programs (ranging from reality and heavy dramas to children’s cartoons) so it’s always interesting to see what the majority of people watch. With the increase in instant gratification for many forms of media (the ability to stream and download songs, movies or programs, the rise in e-readers) and video games looking/feeling so real, I felt like this year TV had to go big, bold and be extra creative to capture the viewer’s attention. In some cases, we were super lucky and rewarded with smart comedies and gripping dramas. Other times we were subjected to the lowest of low, outrageous programs with horrible “plots” and acting that made me question peoples’ tastes.

I realize my list way past 10, but here are my top programs of the year that have stuck with me–both good, bad and iffy:

Sons of Anarchy (FX): Wow. No idea where to start….Just when I think creator Kurt Sutter can’t shock or surprise me more than he already has, he does. And not by a little, he goes allllll out. It is one of the few programs where I can honestly say I have no idea what will happen next, and despite the characters acting horrible and very violent (they are a biker gang, dealing drugs and guns after all), Sutter is still able to make me cry for/with them and their losses (one in particular still stings a bit). Season five ended a few weeks ago and I am still haunted by the finale episode–especially the whole “incident” with Otto (I won’t say more for those who haven’t seen it yet).

Downton Abbey (ITV/PBS): I am fully aware the third series of Downton Abbey hasn’t aired in the U.S. yet, but thanks to some wonderful overseas connections, I was able to see it with the rest of Britain. I was late to the Downton party, and was hesitant if the period drama would be my thing, but the mix of humor, historical events and drama between the high society upstairs (the Crawleys) and the servants downstairs paired with the acting hooked me. Who am I kidding, it was totally Dame Maggie Smith that sealed the deal. Her portrayal of the Dowager Countess is flawless (her quips and one liners are not to be missed). I love that she always remains very ladylike and proper, but still manages to say what needs to be said. Downton went through some MAJOR changes for series three, two that viewers will expect and one that will come out of nowhere. I’m excited to see this year’s Christmas special, but it will definitely make the wait for series four that much more long and annoying. I wonder if they will casually work in Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley) possible departure/less frequent appearances from the program or wait until series four starts filming to address it.

A Young Doctor’s Notebook (Sky Arts 1): yet another UK program on the list! Based on playwright Mikhail Bulgakov’s short stories, I really hope it gets picked up and shown over here because American audiences are definitely missing out. It is only four episodes long, and each episode is about half an hour. There is a lot packed into such a short amount of time, but it never feels rushed. It’s quite a surreal experience seeing Daniel Radcliffe as a bumbling young Russian doctor (Jon Hamm plays the older version of the doctor) instead of Harry Potter, but he does it very well, making the program’s dark comedy and gory moments even funnier and more awkward.

Gravity Falls (Disney Channel): Finally, another well-written gem for Disney Channel! The series follows twins Dipper and Mabel, who are sent to live with their Great Uncle Stan in Gravity Falls, Oregon. It is quite quirky, clever and very colorful. It actually reminds me of an elevated version of Scooby Doo, mixed with a hefty dose of Phineas & Ferb and The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy. An added bonus for loyal viewers: each episode is filled with hidden clues and puzzles to decipher.

Misfits (E4): If it’s not fairly obvious by now, I have a fondness for British programs. I stumbled upon Misfits while sifting through tweets, and I’m so glad I took the chance. The series (I like to think of it as a sci-fi dramedy) follows a group of teenagers sentenced to community service, where they get various supernatural powers from a freak storm and all the insane trouble they manage to find along the way. I really fell in love with the cast for series one to three, and was pretty worried when series four started, and became more worried as it went on. Fans are fickle and don’t like changes in casts, so when the whole cast is reworked, it can be a nightmare. Thankfully, the writers did a nice job of finding new characters instead of trying to recreate old ones, kept the writing sharp and took the insane trouble aspect up a few notches. I’m hoping it gets renewed and now that audiences are familiar with the current casts, series five will get back to the program’s roots.

Sherlock (BBC One): Let’s be clear here: I am talking about the British version, not the weird CBS, Watson is a girl version. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss lend their amazing creative skills to the program and help Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman portray Sherlock and Watson brilliantly. I love the mix of the modern world (GPS and texting) with elements from the books and really helps make the characters that much stronger and more believable. Another highlight for me: how Moriarty is portrayed. I haven’t read more than one Sherlock Homes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but for such a criminal mastermind, it seems like he’s usually kind of dull and rather…classy. Moffat and Gatniss made him a full on psychopath-someone you could actually see and want to see challenging Sherlock. Each episode is longer than most other programs, but I think all Sherlock fans will agree “The Reichenbach Falls” was not nearly long enough. I have never, EVER been so upset over a season finale until that episode. I’ve watched it at least seven times and I still don’t see this “clue” Moffat and Gatniss say is in the episode. Major kudos to them for still keeping fans confused and guessing what the clue is and how on earth the words “rat,” “wedding” and “bow” tie into series three.

The Closer (TNT): I’ve been a fan of the program since its premiere in 2005, and appreciated it was still a cop drama that focused on solving homicides, but how the main character Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) used interrogations to solve cases. The cast as a whole helped make each episode seem new, if not unique to the genre. I mean, how often do cop dramas show detectives casually ignore a murder to go to a baseball game, only to come back to the scene of the crime to find the body missing? It was a bummer when the series came to an end, but I appreciated how the writers wrapped it up. Despite a huge scandal that affected the whole squad, it ended appropriately (and I felt fairly happily considering); all the loose ends were dealt with and we knew what each character would do next.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Nickelodeon): Reboots always make me nervous, especially when it’s something you watched as a kid. No matter how bad it was at the time, you LOVED it and the thought of it being ruined breaks your childhood heart. Thankfully, my childhood heart is in tact and pretty pleased. The writing is good and has so far done a nice job to keep the basics of the heroes (they still love pizza, still act like typical teenagers, Raph still has a temper, Mikey is still a total goofball) and villains while still making it “acceptable” for today’s children. I like the voice cast they chose, too. I was worried using Rob Paulsen, who voiced Raphael in the old school version, to voice Donatello now would spoil it for me, but it hasn’t. The new theme song isn’t nearly as awesome or catchy as the one I grew up with, but I am pleased they kept the most iconic line: “turtles in a half shell-turtle power!”

Homeland (Showtime): Homeland is another program I discovered via Twitter. I kept seeing tweets from various writers of some of my favorite programs and decided I had to check it out. Tackling the idea of a prisoner of war who returns home; the world sees him as a hero, but one CIA agent sees him as a major threat and frantically tries to prove this to her colleagues. It is unlike any drama I’ve seen before, and I give the program’s writers and producers lots of credit for adapting it so well from the original Israeli version, as well as the actors for portraying some very realistic battle and torture scenes, as well as other aspects of “the war on terror” viewers have heard so much about over the years. Like “Sons of Anarchy,” there were lots of twists, especially in season two. As a viewer, I really felt the panic and urgency actual CIA agents must feel trying to keep on top of terrorism. Just when it seemed like things were clear or on the right track, something else came out of nowhere and sent everything in the opposite direction–the most off the beaten path opposite direction.

Law & Order: SVU (NBC): I am a diehard Law & Order fan and very familiar with all the spinoffs. SVU, which focuses on sexually based offenses, is my second favorite of the bunch. Despite the subject matter making each episode feel heavy and grim, creator Dick Wolf incorporated many positive factors: people are convicted, victims seek treatment and many real life issues are addressed (sex trafficking, the shame male victims feel, the difficulty many victims face sharing their stories). Mariska Hargitay who plays Olivia Benson, started receiving letters from fans who felt a connection with Benson, was so moved by the stories she started a charity, The Joyful Heart Foundation, to help survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. While I miss seeing Benson and Elliot Stabler (played by Christopher Meloni, who left at the end of season 12) taking down bad guys, I’ve grown to love the current cast. I’m also amazed after so many seasons, the cases used for each episode still feel new and the guest star roster keeps getting better and better. During season 14, a few old cases were revisited and some old cast members reappeared–a nice treat for loyal fans.

Top Chef Seattle (Bravo): With its wide range of amazing ingredients and unique locations (I’m still ooohing and ahhhing over the Chihuly Garden & Glass), Seattle is known as a popular “foodie” city. In my opinion, holding the cooking competition in Seattle is the reason season 10 has been so awesome. The season started with 21 hopeful cheftestants competing for a trip to Seattle, but instead of having to cook with crazy ingredients or using only things found in a soda fountain, they were given basic cooking tests picked by four of the judges (Tom Colicchio, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and Hugh Acheson). It was even possible that all 21 could get a chef’s coat–a first for the program. Last Chance Kitchen returned as well,only this time fans are allowed to vote for their favorite eliminated Last Chance Kitchen chef. The chef with the most votes is automatically in the finals. This didn’t please the 15 who made the cut, but the unhappiness multiplied when they learned three past chefs were joining them. Don’t get me wrong, I love the crazy challenges, but seeing the chefs simply cook in the first episode was refreshing. I think this season’s quickfire challenges are much harder than past seasons. I mean, wrapping every ingredient in tinfoil (and once they were opened had to be used in the dish) then making all cooking vessels off limits, forcing them to create pots, pans, strainers, etc. is brutal, but it’s really forcing each cheftestant to push their skills and imaginations to the limit.

The Middle (ABC): I don’t usually like TV comedies (I do have a soft spot for British comedies though). I think the last comedy I truly enjoyed was Friends, and well, we know how long ago that was on! I was channel surfing when I found The Middle. I live in the Midwest so a program based on a hard working middle class family who struggles to pay all their bills help each other no matter what resonated with me. I’ve been to corn mazes, seen a lawnmower race and countless potlucks and know that football season is everything (I didn’t learn that until I moved to Nebraska). I’ve felt that panic the first day school is back in session and begged for an item of clothing ” had to have” that was insanely expensive.

Arrow (The CW): Based on the DC Comic superhero Green Arrow, I was excited to watch it and figured I’d love it. I mean, who doesn’t love a superhero? However, after watching the first seven episodes, I just can’t get into it. Ironically, Mike, who rarely watches TV really likes it. The basic plot of following Oliver Queen around in both is normal life and hero life is great, but I feel like they’ve chosen to focus too much on a ton of characters (many who they could leave out) and his family drama. It makes each episode feel two hours long. I end up spending most of the time messing around on my phone; I’ll glance up, Oliver will be chatting with his family. I’ll browse Pinterest for about 10 minutes and look up in time to catch the end of the conversation and take down the bad guys (which I swear only lasts three minutes max) before being able to go back to browsing. I will confess the major reason I am still watching is due to John Barrowman having a crucial role, but unless the writing improves a ton, I doubt I’ll watch season two (if it even gets renewed).

Made in Jersey (CBS): I had high hopes for this program, too. Janet Montgomery plays a lovely, street smart lawyer who lands a job in the state prosecutor’s office and has to prove herself to her “classier” colleagues and put up with her very large Italian family, but instead of focusing mostly on helping her clients, it centers on her overly sweet, perky personality. She is a loyal friend. A wonderful, caring daughter. The perfect sister and aunt, always around to listen and help.  A team player who tries extra hard to be nice to everyone, no matter how mean they are to her. All this made her character feel horribly fake and shallow versus an underdog you want to root for. The writers also overplayed her streetwise skills. In the first episode, she helps solve a case when she notes the lady couldn’t be the killer because her nails weren’t smudged so there was no way she could have held the murder weapon. Really? I’m all for out of the box thinking helping to solve a case, but when it happens every episode it wears thin. The other characters were just as poorly written. Stephanie March was so phenomenal as ADA Cabot in Law & Order: SVU, it was actually painful to watch her talents be wasted. I think if the writers had made a better effort to make the characters deeper and more realistic, it might not have been pulled after only two episodes.

The Mob Doctor (FOX): I really liked The Mob Doctor when it first started. The premise of a doctor who saves lives in a hospital, but is also in debt to a major Chicago mob boss was quite intriguing. After a few episodes though, everything went stale. It was a weak medical drama that spent a lot of time watching Grace (Jordana Spiro) frantically try to do her job without getting in trouble while doing what the mob boss, Constantine (William Forsythe) wants her to do. Sometimes she had a conscience, and went against Constantine’s orders. Other times, she blindly followed his wishes. I started to dislike her trying so hard to “be good,” but had no problem taking supplies from the hospital or asking her nurse best friend to constantly lie and cover for her. I think if Grace had chosen the mob, the show would have been a much more successful.

Leverage (TNT): With the series finale airing on Christmas, I thought seeing Leverage come to an end would have upset me, but I think it’s time. The first few seasons were great. The writing was excellent and filled with the perfect blend of humor, action and drama. I looked forward to seeing how the mismatched team of a grifter, hacker, hitter, thief and a leader would use their skills to help someone in need, but by season four, the characters were still strong, but the writing went downhill. The plots seemed less interesting and more ridiculous as a whole and a lot of the subtle charm I had grown to appreciate had vanished. I do appreciate the creators and producers realizing cancellation was possible and decided to end season five with an episode that could serve as a series finale. There’s nothing I hate more than feeling cheated out of an ending for a program you love, so I hope it’ll wrap up any loose ends and the series can go out on a high note.

What have your favorite/least favorite programs of 2012 been? Any programs that left you thinking, “I can’t believe I didn’t watch this sooner?” Anything you’re looking forward to seeing?

Sweets Swap: Peanut Butter Dreams

I’ve always wanted to do a cookie swap, but I never really think about it until it’s the holidays and everyone is too busy to participate. Mike’s work usually does a food day once a month to celebrate birthdays and quite a few people participate. I’m good friends with a couple of people from his work and had the great idea to pitch a cookie swap to them and see if they’d do it with me and to my delight, seven other ladies agreed to participate! However, we decided to put a spin on it and broaden it from just cookies to sweets of various sorts, like cupcakes and candies. We set it up as at least one treat per person because no one’s ever done one of these before and this seemed like a good way to introduce people to the format. I think if it’s successful, we’ll probably do another one the “correct way.”

Back in January 2011, I started my quest to bake/make at least half the items from the Bon Appetit Desserts book. It seemed like an easy task, but there’s only so many occasions I can bake things for, so many ingredients I can find to make some of the things or it’s just too risky to try them out before a big holiday event (and by before, I mean hearing two days before said event). As a result, I think I’ve only made three or four things out of the book. The sweets swap gave me the perfect chance to add another one to the list. I pondered for days about what to make. I had soooooo many choices–too many choices…..I eventually narrowed it down to about six choices and when I wasn’t able to make a decision, I handed the slip and various recipes to Mike and asked him to choose. He narrowed it down to maple stars and peanut butter dreams. The maple stars sounded yummy, but I wanted to branch out from cookies, so I chose the peanut butter dreams.

The peanut butter dreams were a three whisk recipe, which meant they’d be pretty tough, but I felt up for the challenge. Besides, what fun is it to always pass over a harder recipe you’ve always wanted to try? It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, it just means you’ll have to be patient and willing to try again if something goes wrong. It also means it’s a good idea to buy more ingredients than you actually need so if there is a screw up, you don’t have to run back to the store, or more likely send someone out to pick up more for you while you clean up the massive amount of mess and dishes that suddenly appeared. Don’t try to substitute cheaper chocolate or a different brand of cream cheese (or go for a low fat version). All the recipes in the Bon Appetit were thoroughly tested using various brands of ingredients and what the book lists ensures you’ll end up with a great product.

Peanut butter dreams are kind of a cross between a peanut butter cup and a truffle, with lovely crunchies on the outside. Years ago, I made truffles and they turned out well, and I had made a quick caramel sauce for tatins a handful of times so a candy that combined truffle skills, caramel and dipping seemed like a logical next step.

Helpful hint before starting this recipe: you’ll need your freezer or fridge to chill and set the chocolate so make sure you’ve got room BEFORE you start. We have a side by side model and it’s pretty nice, but it is totally against me freezer-wise. I can’t fit larger cookie sheets or larger containers in there without a lot of Tetris-like reorganizing (grabbing items for dinner that night was quite a trick) and trying to do that and make sure the centers didn’t melt was harder than it needed to be.

My first mishap was making the praline. I am very inexperienced when it comes to working with sugar for candy, and despite following the instructions and looking up extra instructions online, I still managed to seize my first batch of sugar. I was pretty upset, but it was kind of a good thing really. I was able to figure out what had gone wrong (I had sugar crystals around the edge of the pan that contaminated the batch) and what to look for the second time. Transforming sugar for candy is definitely not a process you can rush or squeeze into your day (at least not for the average person) or try when you have distractions (in my case our puppy). While it is a pain to start over, a sugar burn is VERY painful and something you definitely want to avoid at all costs! An easy way to help prevent crystals: keep a cup of warm water next to the stove and use a wet pastry brush to carefully wipe the crystals off/help them dissolve back into the sugar. I even dipped my spatula in the warm water and wiped it off occasionally to make sure I wasn’t stirring any crystals into the sugar and water. If you’re unsure if the sugar is fully dissolved, drop a tiny bit of the mixture onto your fingertips–be careful, the mix is very hot so I wet my fingertips first. If you feel any graininess, keep going! I also noticed when it gets fairly close to being fully dissolved, the mixture looks shimmery.

I’ve been successful melting milk chocolate and dark chocolate, but my first attempt with white chocolate didn’t go so well. I think my burner was too hot so my water was probably more at a boil, melting the chocolate at too high of a temperature, causing it to sort of scorch. Once I kept the water at a low simmer everything went smoothly. I also chopped the chips up a bit. Don’t forget to check how much water you have in the bottom of your pot for your double boiler, too. If you’re making a double boiler with a glass bowl set over a pot, be careful you don’t let any steam or water get into your chocolate. It’ll seize and you’ll have to start over. Using a glass bowl will also allow you to see if you need to adjust the temperature of the burner and if you have too much water in the pot (the water shouldn’t touch the bottom of the bowl).

I also discovered I am pretty awful at dipping candies. I tried the method listed in the recipe: rolling around in the chocolate, lift out with fork, tap and slide off with knife, but when I used the knife to slide it off, I ended up nicking the center and it left a hole. I tried it for a second piece, thinking maybe I just needed to get the hang of it, but I had the same issue. I remembered watching a chef stick a toothpick in the center of a truffle and dipping it with great success so I gave it a shot. I wasn’t as successful. Eventually, I went back to the fork method, but instead of sliding it off with a knife, I flipped it upside down and tapped it off. There was still a hole, but I was able to glob extra on with the knife. When I was all done, I was pretty bummed. They were not attractive. At all. There was no doubt they were handmade by a novice, but my mom said it just gave them character. I like character and all, but when it comes to food, the shallow idea of “pretty looking” would have been more appreciated. I pondered trimming off the excess chocolate with a knife once they were chilled, but to my surprise when they cooled, the chocolate had evened itself off pretty darn well. One of them was even nice enough you might have thought it came from a box of candy you buy at the store. By batch three, I switched over to a two-pronged meat fork and it ended up working the best. There was enough room to let the excess chocolate drip off and when I plopped it on the waxed paper, I didn’t gouge chunks out of the bottom. If you plan on doing a double batch, you will probably have to stop and put the centers back in the freezer or they’ll be so soft the warm chocolate will deform them. Don’t let that issue scare you from trying the recipe: there is an easy fix and no one will know about your troubles or poor dipping skills!

When you coat them in a bit of chocolate before rolling them in the praline, you can smooth out any lumps or bumps (the proof is in the pictures below; don’t forget to click on them to see my extra comments). And whatever you can’t fix that way will be hidden by the chunky bits of praline!! If you’re wondering why there aren’t any pictures of this process…..it’s messy. Very messy. My first piece of candy I dipped and rolled in the praline didn’t go as smoothly as the recipe made it seem. I had chocolate all over my hands, the praline dish and the cookie sheet. I suggest enlisting some help to make the process easier. If you do it alone, or your helper declines like mine did, use a spoon to help you roll it around and tongs to lift it out. Or, if you figure out a way to be successful using the recipe’s directions, please share your secrets with me.

I ended up with 16 instead of 18. I “sacrificed” the two that looked the worst for Mike and I to try. I certainly didn’t want to send something for the swap that tasted bad….They were delicious, even the one that had probably five times as much chocolate on it as it needed. The cream cheese made the centers nice and, well, creamy and helped to balance out all the sweetness. They were worth all the troubles and effort they require. I decided to make a double batch the next day so the sweets swap participants could have more than just two. Two just seemed too small to give for the swap, and I figured if I have to measure everything out and do all the steps once, it’s not that much more work to do it twice.

I was able to coat all three batches of candy with the first batch of praline I made, and still had quite a bit left over. I imagine the ground up batch would be delicious over ice cream. I brought the second batch of unground praline back to Minnesota with me and my mom, aunt and I ate it like candy.

I had taken a huge risk by sending such a complicated, time consuming recipe (printed out, the recipe was two pages), but knew I made the right choice when a few of the swap participants gave the candies excellent feedback. I will no doubt make these again in the future, and I hope it will convince me to be brave and try some other types of candy, but I will definitely look for better tools and supplies. Having the right tools for the job always makes things easier. Nebraska is lovely, but not really the place to look for the majority of the higher quality ingredients or supplies I need. I could have gotten what I needed off Amazon, but that’s not an option when you need them right now. I’m hoping while I’m back in Minnesota, I can hit up Lynn’s Cake & Candy Supply and stock up on stuff, like a block or two of some Callebaut chocolate. And larger candy cups. Some of my candies were a liiiiiiiittle too big for the ones I had!

If you decide to make these lovely little candies or another type of candy, please share your results/issues/questions!

Peanut Butter Dreams (makes about 16-18, from Bon Appetit Desserts)

  • 3/4 C powdered sugar, plus more for dusting hands
  • 1/3 C super-chunky peanut butter (NOT old-fashioned or freshly ground)
  • 2 oz Philadelphia-brand cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 oz high-quality white chocolate, melted and cooled (ex: Callebaut, Lindt or Ghirardelli)
  • 2 T (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 12 oz high-quality milk chocolate, chopped (ex: Callebaut, Lindt or Ghirardelli)
  • Peanut Praline (see recipe below)
  • 18 (about) paper candy cups


  • Double boiler
  • Scale
  • Waxed paper
  • Baking sheets
  • Candy thermometer (optional)
  • Mixer
  • Food processor

Make the peanut praline (about 2 C):

  • 1 C sugar
  • 1/4 C water
  • 1 C roasted salted peanuts

Butter a baking sheet (DO NOT use cooking spray-it will dry long before you get the praline made and poured). Cook sugar and 1/4 C water in a heavy, small saucepan over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves completely. Increase heat to medium and boil without stirring until syrup is deep golden brown. Mix in peanuts.
Immediately pour mixture onto prepared sheet (be careful-the sugar is very hot and can easily burn you). Cool completely. Break into 2-inch pieces. Using on/off turns, grind finely in a food processor. 

** Can be made 2 months ahead. Cover refrigerate in an airtight container**

For peanut butter-chocolate centers:

Blend 3/4 C powdered sugar, peanut butter, cream cheese, melted white chocolate and butter in a medium bowl. Freeze until firm enough to shape, about 20 minutes.

Line 2 baking sheets with waxed paper. Using hands dusted with powdered sugar, roll 1 T peanut butter mixture into a ball (you can refreeze mixture if it becomes too soft to handle). Place on 1 prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining mixture. Freeze until very firm, about 3 hours.

Stir milk chocolate in top of double boiler over barely simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Working quickly, submerge 1 peanut butter ball in chocolate, tilting pan if necessary. Using a dinner fork, lift out candy. Tap bottom of fork on sides of pan, allowing excess chocolate to drip back into pan. Using a small knife, push candy off fork and onto second prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining balls, setting double boiler over hot water occasionally to rewarm chocolate to 115 degrees as needed. Refrigerate candies until chocolate is set, about 1 hour (reserve remaining chocolate in pan).

Line another baking sheet with waxed paper. Rewarm remaining chocolate over barely simmering water in double boiler; remove from over water. Place praline in large shallow dish. Dip half of 1 candy into chocolate, then roll around in palm to cover candy with a light coating of chocolate. Set in praline and roll gently, covering completely. Transfer to prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining candies. Refrigerate until firm. Transfer candies to paper cups. 

**Can be made 1 week ahead; refrigerate in airtight container. Let stand 20 minutes at room temperature before serving**

Food Firsts

November is almost over (seriously, how did that happen?!) and December is closer than I realized, which also means my baking frenzy is about to start!

I love to bake for anyone and everyone throughout the year, but the need to bake really kicks in around the holidays. I mean, baking is such an easy way to show others you care, and everyone (both neighbors and loved ones alike) appreciates the results. I do try and step it up a notch and do something different than peppermint whatevers or the peanut butter kiss cookies you see on numerous cookie trays, and sometimes my ambitious nature gets the best of me and my “well that looks easy” fun-loving nature turns into “why did this look fun again?” but thankfully, everything seems to work out, the finished product is tasty and all my worrying was for nothing.

November gave me a chance to expand my cooking/baking repertoire (and my mix of emotions mentioned above) whether I wanted to or not. For the first time since moving to Nebraska, Mike’s parents were going to visit his sister and we were on our own for Thanksgiving. Well, we didn’t have to necessarily be alone…he does have other siblings who would have let us join their Thanksgiving, but they also have children and their own extended families, so we decided to do our own thing this year. My first thoughts: Yay! I get to do it for two! That should make it easier!

I started making the menu in my head (which at the time consisted of pumpkin pie with whipped cream, mashed potatoes, gravy and turkey), then I asked Mike what he liked at Thanksgiving and my list grew: stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, rolls….I wrote down everything on a sheet of paper and realized there was waaaaaaaay too much food for just two people to eat (although I’m sure Nova would have enjoyed eating any and all leftovers). Then something even more pressing entered my mind: I had no idea how to make anything but pie, rolls and potatoes. Then the further realization I’d never actually made a pumpkin pie, I just enjoyed eating it. My “fun Thanksgiving for two” bubble burst and the hardcore planning started.

And by planning I mean something like this: Look up recipe for ____________; find billions of results. Search through some, feel confused; call mom for advice. Mom gives semi-advice (“they all sound good” or “I don’t know about a specific stuffing recipe, I kind of do my own thing”), wishes me luck and I ponder on my own. I think I made about five or six attempts at a menu before my wonderful boyfriend said it didn’t matter what we had for Thanksgiving. We could have Chipotle (which at a certain point sounded like the best idea ever, except they’re closed on major holidays) and it’d be perfect because it’d be just the three of us (yay, Nova was included!). He also advised me I should go super easy and light for the meal because it was just two of us and there was no reason to stress about it so much.

It made my heart oh-so happy to hear that, but it kind of pushed me to make it even better. I mean, it’s our first “us only” Thanksgiving, it needed to be good and my need for it to be good kept my menu fairly hefty. I proudly made my grocery list, then did a double take at the loooooooong list of things I’d need for just Thanksgiving. I reworked my menu again, caving and adding a few premade items and ended up with: turkey breast, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing mix (which would be doctored up with some real ingredients) and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. The day we went grocery shopping, I warned Mike if the turkey failed, we would have the BEST Thanksgiving meal of mashed potatoes and pie ever. Boy oh boy was I right about the pie.

I went all out for the pumpkin pie, and used Martha Stewart’s “Pies & Tarts” book recipe (click the link for the recipe and a peek at the book–it is definitely worth buying). And in typical, fancy, impressive Martha Stewart fashion, the pie crust was more complicated than it probably needed to be but there was no way I was going to cheat and do it in an easier way. I made 48 little leaves to line my crust (I made extras just in case), carefully used egg wash to stick them on, put it in the oven to prebake, made the filling, popped it in the oven for the allotted time, pulled it out to cool and hoped for the best. I didn’t have the patience to wait until the next day to try out my pie so I cut a slice the night before Thanksgiving. Mike thought that was insane, but I liked to look at it this way: I still had half a recipe of crust and enough supplies for filling so if this pie was awful, I still had enough time to do another one before dinner tomorrow. All the fuss and work was worth it in the end. It was so, so tasty. It’s possible I ate like, 60 percent of the pie. Okay, okay, probably more like 80 percent.

Despite having stuffing mix, my guilt of not doing it “the real way” and knowing it would be tasty got to me. I used up every remaining bit of bread we had around the house, combined two different recipes and made stuffing from scratch that would serve a max of four people versus the usual 10 or more.

Overall, the meal and the panic was worth it and all was yummy. It was actually really nice to do a holiday celebration with just the two of us. Maybe we’ll have to do an early Thanksgiving for two again before the larger, family version. However, my mini feast idea kind of backfired on me: there was not enough stuffing. We had it all eaten by the next day and I happily could have eaten more. Guess next year I’ll be making stuffing for 10…I might even try to work stuffing into our meals more than just once a year–who says I can’t have stuffing with pork chops or chicken on a Tuesday night in April anyway?!

We also did not have enough turkey left over to make turkey pot pies and I’d already hunted down and bought a bunch of leeks. I knew little about leeks, except what I’ve heard/seen from cooking shows: they’re kinda hard to clean, have a mild onion flavor and look like huge scallions. Thank goodness I’m a recipe hoarder: I flipped through binder #2 and lo and behold, a recipe for pan-roasted chicken with leeks.

The shows were right because they are kind of a pain to clean (I triple washed mine to be extra sure there was no dirt anywhere), but worth the effort. Sure, the bacon they’re fried with and the cream sauce they’re used in might have helped a bit, but they’ll definitely make more appearances in our meals.

December will also hold a few baking challenges for me. I’m participating in a “sweets swap” with some of Mike’s coworkers and since there’s so few of us doing it, I’m going to pull out the Bon Appetit cookbook and see what yumminess I can find!

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries