Chocolate Tears

DSC_0005I love all things chocolate – dark, semi-sweet, milk, and everything in between. But, alas, my body has decided that chocolate isn’t for me. I can eat small amounts of chocolate baked goods (like a bite), but anything more gives me a miserable migraine the next day. And forget eating a piece of chocolate itself.

I have mostly reconciled myself to avoiding chocolate most of the time. I stopped eating anything chocolate last fall, so it has been over six months since I have eaten more than a bite or two of chocolate. Yes, I went through Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas without touching it. I thought maybe the months of (mostly) abstinence would have given my body a time to reset and maybe I could eat a bit of chocolate deliciousness again. No go.

I caved the other day and ate a brownie that was left over from a school party of Calvin’s. Well, it was really two brownies. I warmed them up until the chocolate chips inside were nice and gooey, and I thoroughly enjoyed every bite. But the next day I woke up with a miserable headache. Calvin, dear teenage son of mine, asked me if it was worth it. Most decidedly not. I am working toward accepting my need to avoid chocolate, but I’m not totally happy about it. There are so many chocolate desserts that I love making, and eating.

I have not been baking much of anything that involves chocolate, unless it is going out of the house. I didn’t expect Calvin to bring home so many brownies when he requested them for a school treat-fest last week. He said there were so many things to eat that the class didn’t even make a dent in the brownies. I wish I had told him to leave the leftovers at school for the teachers! I need to work on my willpower.

Don’t feel too sorry for me, though. I have been managing quite well with other flavors: vanilla, caramel, spice, almond and just about anything else that isn’t chocolate. If you are combing The Cook’s Life for chocolate recipes, you will find plenty in the archives. I can hope that my body will end its rebellion against chocolate some day, but probably not any time soon. So bring on the salted caramel whatever, the almond decadence or the vanilla anything. They will just have to do for now.

Is Anyone There?

You are probably asking that if you happened to visit The Cook’s Life over the past few months. I wrote a grand total of two posts in 2015 and this is the first post of 2016. I was all ready to get back into blogging when I got a new job.

Over the past five years, or so, I have been searching for my niche in the working world. I have been a nanny/babysitter off and on (mostly on) for the past 11 years. I have also tried my hand as an elementary school lunch monitor and a freelance writer. Then last fall I started a job as a part-time librarian for the St. Louis County Library.

I have been reveling in the best job I have ever had, no hands down. I love spending my shifts surrounded by books, and I am truly enjoying the patrons and my co-workers. I also continue to nanny the two days of the workweek that I am not at the library, so this blogger jumped right into full time working hours without much warning.

It has been an adjustment for all of us in the family, but most of all me. I need to get over the idea that I have time to do all the housecleaning, cooking and shopping. Not to mention keeping up with my various commitments at church and getting Calvin where he needs to be for school clubs and fiddle lessons. We have mostly figured out when, and how, to get it all done, but the blog has suffered.

I make no promises about frequency of posts. But I do feel the urge to write more often, so maybe I will manage to get something out into the ether every so often. I am already working on an update post about the kitchen. We did just a little more to it since I last posted. More to follow soon (I hope)!

Kitchen Facelift

Finally, after ten years of planning, we decided last winter to actually do something about our kitchen. The ceramic tile was cracked and very hard on the feet.

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And the rest of the room was just too white – white cabinets, white countertops and white backsplash. It was time for change.

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So we took the plunge. We started with a trip to a kitchen and bath remodeling store. The less said about that experience the better. Let’s just say the designer offered very little designing advice and came up with a plan that was almost three times the budget we gave her. Needless to say we didn’t go with that option.

We decided to go with one of the big box home improvement stores for the floor, backsplash and some minor demolition and drywall repair. We ordered granite countertops through a separate granite store. While the whole process probably took longer than it would have if we had used one company to do it all, we are happy with our results.

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It was a fairly easy process, looking back on it. It took about two months, and we were only without the kitchen for a few days here and there. It was nothing like the all-out chaos I had imagined. There was plenty of upheaval, but it was mostly manageable. We borrowed a small fridge from a friend to keep in another room for those days when we couldn’t get into the kitchen. For part of the time we had the microwave and electric teakettle on top of the little fridge. Usually we were able to get into the kitchen by evening to cook dinner.

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It was great watching it all come together over the weeks – new floors, new counters and new backsplash. I painted the walls a fresh, clean tan that carries in from the living room and dining room.

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One of the silly things that makes me happy every time I look at it is the baseboard on the wall at the opening to the kitchen. Our house is about sixty years old and has the original baseboards in most of the house. They are an unusual shape and are impossible to find in stores. I guess we could have had some custom made, but we didn’t have to. We found a short piece of baseboard behind the fridge when I was painting. I had painted the kitchen three different times over the years, but I never noticed that beautiful piece of baseboard. Bonanza! We had plenty to go around the corner and up to the edge of the island. I still sit and marvel at the beautifully matched baseboard. Ah, the little things…

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I must say, the pictures don’t do it justice, especially of the backsplash. You will all have to come over for a cup of tea and a cookie to get the full impact. I’ll keep the water hot – just let me know when you are coming.

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I’m back…

It’s been almost exactly eleven months since my last post. I didn’t plan such a long break. When I started to lose my blogging mojo I thought I would take a break for a few weeks, or maybe a month. Well, somehow life got in the way and here it is, almost a year later.

Highlights of the last year

Calvin got his driving permit and is slowly learning how to drive. We have graduated from parking lots to subdivision streets. Soon we might venture out on a main thoroughfare. He isn’t totally comfortable behind the wheel and Rich and I are fine with taking the whole process slowly. He will be sixteen in a few weeks (gulp!) but I think the license will wait for a few months until he is more than ready for the test.

We gave the kitchen a facelift in late winter. That story is material for another post, complete with pictures. But I will say I love the new kitchen and still catch myself standing in the middle of it, marveling at the new look.

Okay, I wanted three things to highlight for the year, but there really haven’t been any earthshaking events. The year was full of food and fun in the kitchen, of course. We made lots of pizza, lots of desserts and even tried deep frying (that is definitely a story for another post).

I didn’t make any big cooking discoveries, at least I can’t remember any. One thing I missed about not blogging was taking notes while I cooked. I need to get back in the habit, whether I intend to blog about a recipe or not. We have had some killer meals that I haven’t been able to recreate because I didn’t take any notes.

The blog might look a little different as I move forward. I won’t be posting as often, and I probably won’t be posting as many recipes. I am going to try to get back to my original intent to use the blog as a window into the world of a cook, baker, gardener and foodie. Rest assured, though there may not be as many recipes, I will still be posting cooking tips for the novice (and the expert). And I will still share recipes and experiments in the kitchen, just maybe not three times a week!

Here’s to eating, cooking and blogging about it! (Raises a glass and cuts a piece of cake).

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Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce

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September can be the time of tomato burnout, at least if you have your own garden or are friends with someone who gardens. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but fresh tomatoes at every meal do pall after awhile. We don’t personally have that problem this year, but we were inundated last year, especially with cherry tomatoes. I love the bounty of fruit you get from a cherry tomato plant, in July and August. By September I am usually faced with bowl after bowl of cherry tomatoes that no one is really all that interested in anymore.

The typical answer to too many tomatoes is to make sauce. This can be problematic with cherry tomatoes. No one is going to peel those babies and they sometimes have very thick skins. Last year I tried an experiment to deal with them in the quickest way possible. It was about a hundred degrees (I’m not exaggerating) and I wanted to get in and out of the kitchen in the shortest amount of time.

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Now, this does involve turning the oven on in the summer heat, but it isn’t on for long and the results make it worth it in my book. Long story short – roast those luscious nuggets of summer sunshine until they are browned and shriveled, which takes very little time since they are so small. Let them cool a little and then chuck them into the food processor. A quick whirl and they break down into sauce that is thickened by the pureed skins.

I like to freeze the sauce flat in ziplock bags, like I freeze my zucchini, to save freezer space. It also makes for easy and fast thawing later. You can thaw in the fridge overnight or put the bag in hot water. It also works to cut the bag off the frozen block of sauce and put it right in a pan to thaw over low heat.

Print or download the recipe.

Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce
From The Cook’s Life
Yield varies

Cherry tomatoes
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and dry the tomatoes. Spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet with sides. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake 20 minutes, or until softened and browning in spots. You might hear some of the tomatoes burst as they are cooking. There will be a fair amount of liquid on the pan from burst tomatoes and it might be caramelizing in spots. That is fine.

Let the tomatoes cool, on the pan, for about 30 minutes. The scrape, pour or otherwise transfer the tomatoes and all their juices to a food processor or blender. Process the tomatoes into a sauce. Scrape down the sides once and process again.

Pour the sauce into ziplock bags. Be sure to label them with the contents and date before you fill them or you’ll be writing on squishy bags. I like to use quart bags and fill them with about two cups of sauce. It is easiest to place the bag in a straight-sided glass or glass measuring cup before filling. Place the filled bags flat on a plate or a cookie sheet and place them in the freezer. Once frozen solid, you can store the bags upright like books or stack them flat.

When ready to use, thaw the bags overnight in the fridge or float in a bowl of hot water for about half an hour. You can also cut the bag off the frozen sauce and thaw it right in your cooking pot. Use the sauce as the base of any soup or stew, or spice it up for pizza or pasta.

Baking for a Barbecue

I have been baking up a storm this week. Once again I am providing desserts for the Midtown Alley BBQ. I baked the desserts last year and couldn’t pass up the chance to do it again this year.

I decided to make the same desserts I made last year:

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Gooey Butter Tarts

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Chocolate Gooey Butter Tarts

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Gingersnaps

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

I was going to make a new gooey butter tart flavor, lemon blueberry, in honor of summer. The first experiments weren’t quite there yet, but stay tuned for the perfected recipe soon.

Feel free to stop by Atomicdust in Midtown St. Louis if you are in town and looking for something to do tonight. For now, I’m headed back to the kitchen to finish baking.

Zucchini for the Freezer

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‘Tis the season of zucchini – the time of year when gardeners are tired of the zucchini bounty and are happy to give friends, neighbors and random passersby their extra squash. I got so tired of my plant taking up most of my garden space that I took the whole thing out and planted a fall garden. More on that in another post.

I have mentioned dealing with all the zucchini in several posts. Can you tell that zucchini has been preoccupying me just a bit? Some of the harvest played a starring roll in lemon zucchini muffins and some featured prominently in pasta dishes or side dishes. And then the rest of it…

Most of the harvest ended up in the freezer, in the form of bags of shredded zucchini. Ready and waiting for me to make zucchini bread and muffins or to sauté to make a quick batch of zucchini pesto for pasta. When I’m not so tired of the blessed vegetable.

DSC_0349I have a ready stash now, stacked in the freezer in ziplock bags. Over the years I have develop a process that works for me and makes the most of precious freezer space. First, shred the zucchini, either by hand or with a food processor. For ease of filling, line a glass or other straight-sided container with a quart-sized ziplock bag, folding the top edge back over the glass. Fill the bag with about two cups of zucchini shreds. You can measure the first one and then fill the others to the same height as the first. I use two cups because that is what most of my recipes call for, and it fills the bag nicely.

DSC_0359Press all the air out of the bags and seal them tightly. Flatten the bags as much as possible, spreading the zucchini shreds out to the very edges of the bags. Label each bag with the contents and the date. Don’t skip the labeling or you will be stuck puzzling over the contents in January, when the contents are frosty and your memory is fuzzy. Freeze the bags flat, and then store them on their sides, like books in a shelf.

When you are ready to use the zucchini, the bags thaw in just a few hours on the counter. Or dip the sealed bag briefly in hot water until the zucchini is thawed enough to use. Or throw the frozen zucchini block right into boiling soup or pasta sauce.

What is your favorite way of dealing with garden abundance?