What I Ate (These Past 3 Months) Wednesday

Throughout my 6 years of French lessons, in between insulting our jaded American attitudes and telling us that no one in France would ever actually be able to understand our terrible accents, my bitter instructor would pause daily to impart on us some examples of how Europeans exceed us in all areas of life.

If it wasn’t terrible enough that the French somehow manage to maintain the smallest waist-lines in the developed world on a steady diet of butter, cheese, and pastries, one tidbit that burrowed its way into my small American mind and made itself a bitter home was the knowledge that all French workers get 7 weeks paid summer vacation that they can take all at one time.

Yes, while most of us full-time workers here in the U.S. are sitting in our window-less cubicles, counting down the days to that 1-week vacay we begged our bosses for this year, most of France is gayly sunbathing their perfect, topless bodies on the beaches of the French Riviera while stuffing their faces full of soft cheese and macarons… and will be doing so for the next 5-11 weeks. What the eff? The world is a cruel, cruel place, mes amis.

Clearly my 1/4 french heritage has been having an affect on me, because summer hiatuses seem to have become a theme of this little blog. Last year I flat out took the summer off, this year I seem to have taken an early spring leave of just under 3 months…

And lot has happened in 3 months. Since I last posted, the weather has shot from a consistent 40 degrees straight up to 90, flowers have bloomed, pollen has infuriated my sinuses, the “S*** ______ Say” meme has died, and giffs have somehow become popular again through #whatshouldwecallme-type blogs. Yes, we’ve come a long way in 3 months.

When someone asks me what I’m making for my next blog post.

Expectation:

Reality:

But just as the French still manage to vacation and eat their hearts out at the same time, just because I haven’t been bloggin’ doesn’t mean I’ve been skipping out on making yummy meals (without the help of an iron, I might add)…

…And since I’m so back-logged, what better way to play catch-up than to join in the fun that is Peas and Crayon’s “What I Ate Wednesday”!

So without further ado, here’s what I cooked (and ate) while “en vacances” (as the French would say)…

Peas and Crayon’s own Quinoa Fried Rice

Skillet Penne With Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, Cannelloni Beans, and Mozzarella

Toasted Coconut Cake Pops (my own creation!)

Decorated Marshmallow Peeps

Cadbury Deviled Eggs

Real Deviled Eggs

“Slutty” Brownies

Vegetarian Paella (From a bargain aisle cookbook) ;)

Spinach, Tempeh, and Rice Pilaf (my own concoction!)

A Christmas Story

‘Twas the month of December, and blog posts? There were none.
But wait! Before you get angry…there was much to get done!

I had to make presents and eat cookies and decorate my house…
…and travel to Orlando to meet a famous big mouse.
There was butterbeer to be drunk and playgrounds on which to climb…
…and two very bestest friends having a wonderfully magical time.
Then it was back to Boston, my home sweet home,
where, Merry Christmas to me, I bought an iPhone.
Then a yankee swap at work, where we drank lots of wine with lunch…
I got a margherita gift basket from those mofos. Hey, thanks a bunch!

Then off to New Jersey for more presents to unwrap.
Santa was f***ing good this year, just look at all this cool crap…

I got a zebra hat and mittens to protect from winter’s rough bark…

…a macro lens to take badass photos, and a floating toy shark.
But the real reason I’m typing out this silly, long ballad,
is because tucked in my stocking this year…

…was the recipe for my grandma’s famous potato salad!

(more about the recipe after the recipe.)

Nonna’s Smashed Potato Salad

  • 5 pounds all-purpose potatoes
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 medium sized sweet onion, grated so that the onion is essentially a pulp (more on this below)
  • Helman’s mayo (to taste…more on that, again, below)
  • Salt, pepper and garlic powder (to taste)
  • A whole lotta paprika
  1. Hard boil the eggs. (See below.) When cooled, peel and chop them.
  2. Boil the potatoes until easily pierced with a fork. They should be at a mashable consistency, not much firmer. Put in the fridge to cool. When cooled, peel off the skins (I pulled the skins off right after I took them out of the boiling pot…I see no reason why you can’t do the same).
  3. Cut the potatoes into evenly sized cubes and put into a large mixing bowl. Add the grated carrot, onion, egg, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Mix well with a wooden spoon. The potatoes should become slightly mashed.
  4. Little by little, add the mayonnaise to your liking. The salad shouldn’t be white with mayo, and should have a fairly thick, stable consistency (not soupy).
  5. Continue to mix until the potato salad has a consistency of mashed potatoes with lots of lumps.
  6. Top the entire bowl with lots and lots of paprika.

I’ve loved this potato salad since I was a kid. It was the only potato salad that ever called to me. In fact, I had sworn off potato salad before I tried my Nonna’s. I don’t like the potato salads that are soupy, covered in thick white stuff, crunchy…nope, I don’t want any of that shizzz…

I begged my Nonna forever for her recipe and I got the run-around for the better part of a year. Imagine my surprise when I found a little index card tucked in my stocking this year. At one point during the holiday, I proclaimed it my favorite gift, which invited dirty looks from my mom who had just bestowed upon me a $300 camera lens.

But of course, in typical Nonna fashion, the recipe was horrifyingly vague. Look at the picture I posted of the index card above… she lists only two ingredients: 5 pounds of potatoes and 6 hard-boiled eggs. Later in the recipe, she mentions all the other crap I need, but gives no quantities. Not to mention, she says nothing about how to hard boil eggs… which I may or may not have had to look up directions for…

One of my favorite things about this recipe is that the onion is so finely grated that there is no annoying onion-y crunch present when you bite into a fork full, just some pleasant onion taste. Obviously if you like just a liiiiiiiitle bit more crunch, you can dice the onion, slice it, or mix and match.

Anyway, above is my best interpretation of her recipe and the results were spot on to the potato salad that was present at every springtime family function when I was a kid. Sure, it’s a little out of season right now, but it reminds me of family…my family…my big, crazy, food-loving, grudge-holding, tradition-following, Italian family.

Snitch Cake Pops!

Like all good kitchens, we have an extensive baking cabinet in our apartment. My roommate keeps it well stocked; she is our resident baker extraordinaire. Me on the other hand? I’m afraid of the baking cabinet. There are very precious few things that will motivate me to venture into it. Friends’ birthdays? Eh, maybe. Holiday cheer? Perhaps. Harry Potter? HELL YES.

I. love. Harry. Potter.

I cannot get enough. I waited in line at midnight to get every single book since Numero Three. I dressed up as Harry Potter on at least four occasions. I cried when I finished the last book. I’m pretty sure I went through an extensive depression in middle school when I realized life would never be as cool as it is in Harry Potter.

And now, the last movie is here and the Harry Potter franchise is coming to an end. I don’t quite know what to do with myself.

Amazingly, the other day I stumbled upon the most amazing sight. Food Gawker was showing a post for Golden Snitch Butterbeer Cake Pops. I nearly fell out of my work office chair in excitement. This would be the perfect way to pay homage to Harry Potter… in edible form.

Amy from amyBITES is the genius that came up with this concoction. She is my hero. I want to be her when I grow up. I firmly believe you don’t mess with perfection and Amy is far more qualified to lead you through this process than I am, so today’s post is going to be strictly photos from my cake pop adventure. For the recipes and instructions, you should follow Amy’s extensive instructions on:

Snitch Cake Pops
Butterbeer Cake
Butterbeer Frosting 

As someone who never bakes, I knew this was going to be quite the challenge to tackle.

The first challenge was locating the necessary ingredients. Cake pops require candy melts and other fancy baking equipment. Despite living in the city, the nearest place that sells candy melts was a 25 minute drive away. I had to rent a car. Yep, that’s dedication.

The recipe also calls for butter flavoring, which I imagined to be kind of like butter extract. Where does one find these things? Well, not at the craft store, that’s for sure. Shaws? Nope. Stop & Shop? Nope. Trader Joe’s? Nope. I settled for butter flavored flakes…you know, the stuff people who watch their cholesterol use on their baked potatoes.

Ooooo doesn’t that just look like snow? Powdered sugar is my favorite!

The principle of cake pops is easy peasy! Baked cake + batch of frosting + candy coating = cake on a pop. However, as I came to learn, there’s a pretty exact art to many of the finer points of the process. No foolin’ around here!

One such example is the science maintaining the delicate ratio of cake to frosting when rolling the balls. As Amy describes, the balls should be moist enough from the frosting to stay together, but not so much that the balls become heavy and slip down on their sticks. Ruh roh… disaster waiting to happen.

Amy said she used her entire batch of frosting for the cake pops, so naturally I assumed my outcome would be similar. But strangely, after just a few dollops of frosting, it seemed like my cake balls had become potentially too saturated. Bwahhhh!

But huzzah, for awhile, it appeared that everything worked out okay anyway! As you can see above, I was able to make a nice, solid, candy-coated pop.

But as the pops were left to dry, and later as I added wings, many of the cake balls fell down on the sticks, pushing the lollipop stick through the top and ruining the balls. With the wings, my pops just became too heavy. Sadtimes. :(

I got about 5 good looking snitches out of the bunch, which I promptly froze and took precautions to protect. The rest of the pops I packed away safely so that I could assemble the wings just before serving them. This allowed me to save many from an unfortunate goring.

The whole process took the better part of a day, but it was a pretty darn exciting project! They sure turned some heads when my roommates and I brought them to the Harry Potter showing with us!

Would I do it again? For Harry Potter…you betcha!

Fried Food Fail

I love bar food. Which is probably a (not so) good thing, because everyone seems to want to do after-work dinner and drinks lately, which puts me at the bar… a lot.

Usually for us veggies, bar menus usually mean trying to make full meals out of slim pickins on the appetizer list. For me, that typically amounts to mozzarella sticks and onion rings, for the win!

The other day, out for drinks with a friend, splittin’ a basket of aforementioned finger foods, I started thinkin’; these foods are soooo ubiquitous, they can’t be hard at all to make, right? Bread some stuffs, heat some oil, fry ‘em up, and serve… puhhhleasseee, I could do that with my eyes closed.

Uh yeah…well, apparently I was wrong…

There are some very simple things that even as an avid cook, I still have trouble with. Omelets, for example, or grilled cheese. I guess now we can add fried foods to that list…

I have complete faith in the recipes I borrowed from. I have even more faith in their authors to execute them perfectly. You can find them here and here if you want to learn from the masters. Otherwise, please enjoy the following tutorial on how to not fry foods:

Step 1: As tasty as it appears, don’t choose whole milk fresh mozzarella sticks (as apposed to normal, part-skim mozzarella sticks that are rubberier and sturdy). To be fair, I did this by accident. I didn’t know Trader Joe’s (or, um..  anyone) carried fresh mozzarella sticks… in fact, I’m not sure why they would, they’re completely useless as string cheese. I picked them up by accident and then wondered for a good few days why my string cheese was wet and soft and wouldn’t pull apart. When I figured it out, I thought, “fresh cheese fried mozzarella sticks? Now that’s classy!”

Oh boy was I wrong…

Step 2: Don’t be fooled when your foods appear to be breaded adequately (like above). They are not. They may even still look semi-normal when you put them in a frying pan:

But, friends, beware. When the cheese melts, you’re gonna have one big sloppy mess on your hands:

I attribute this to failures on Steps 1 and 2. The whole milk fresh mozzarella just doesn’t want to stay in one cohesive unit… it’s like a viscous liquid, it will seep out every uncrusted nook and cranny. I tried to cover as much of the cheese as I could… I even triple rolled each stick in the batter…but alas, fresh mozzarella found a way.

Step 3: When making onion rings, cut perpendicular to the onion stem/root, not parallel. If you cut perpendicular, you get nice rings like this:

Cutting parallel? Uhhhh not so much. Trust me, I learned the hard way (I didn’t take photos because I wasn’t expecting this to be a fail…)

Step 3: Use a wet coating slightly heartier than water.

I completely concede that I didn’t read the recipe too closely, but I’m pretty certain that these onion rings were supposed to be dipped in a cornmeal dry batter and a water/flour wet batter.

This is what happened when my water-battered onion rings hit the frying pan:

Yep, hasta la vista cornmeal coating, nice seein’ ya…

Step 4: If at first you don’t succeed, fry, fry again.

Even though the water batter completely bailed on me, I decided I still had some fight left in me and attempted a new wet batter, this time with egg, which would hopefully be a lot more heartier than water…and it was…

But, I missed one key part of the picture…

You can’t shallow fry onion rings… they have to be deep fried. Duh. But it was 10 p.m. at night, and I didn’t have enough vegetable oil to deep fry these puppies…

So these were my results. The batter completely fell off, the onions were still too raw to even attempt to comfortably bite into, and I was left with a pile of chopped raw onions and a rumble in my tummy.

So I did what any smart foodie would do…

I poured myself a large glass of w(h)ine, caramelized the onions, heated up some frozen pierogis, gobbled ‘em up, and called it a night…

Kitchen fail? On all counts. Mrs. T dinner save? Oh hell yes.

Alright foodies, help a sista’ out. Does anyone out there have a fool(Lauren)-proof recipe for either one of these bar treats? If so, send ‘em my way and I’ll try not to totally eff ‘em up.

New Year, New Camera

Happy 2011!

How was your end to 2010?! Here’s what mine looked like:

It snowed.

A lot.

I took a mental health day from work and got my hair cut. It’s the first time since 2nd grade that I’ve had bangs.

My bestest friend in the whole wide world came to Boston. We ate at a yummy vegetarian restaurant, looked for geocaches (and made one of our own!), and took my puppy on lots of long walks.

We went to the aquarium on New Year’s Eve day and spent a whole afternoon looking at fish.

Oh! And if you can’t tell already, I got a new camera! It’s a Nikon D3000 SLR and I am already in lurrrrve with it.

Hopefully that means some exciting things for Two Veggies! No more point-n-shootin’ for this girl…I’m movin’ up in the photo world!

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions, but here’s one I’m making on behalf of Two Veggies:

This year I resolve to take better pictures than I did last year, cook more during hours that incur natural light, and help make Two Veggies the best little food blog it can possibly be!

How about you, foodies? What are your New Year’s Resolutions, for yourselves and your blogs? Let’s work together to make this year the very best year fo’ food bloggin’ evahhhh!

Hope everyone had a great start to the new year! Here’s to happy cookin’ in 2011!