Freebies

My health care has an excellent perk: a rewards program!

The way it works is this: You take a health “survey” once a year, and you get a $30 gift card to Amazon! You earn a certain number of extra points (for logging exercise or healthy eating or getting a pap smear or whatever, or you complete a “program” that requires you to do almost nothing), and you get more gift cards!

The first year I took advantage of this, I put it towards some big-girl, polarized, not cheap, sunglasses. My new boyfriend had been harping on me to upgrade, and after stepping on a cheapo lens after it fell out of my sunnies (again), I caved. I still wear the same pair… whereas the-then-boyfriend-now-husband has gone through like four pairs. Interesting.

In 2011, I bought an ice cream attachment for my Kitchenaid. I’m pretty sure my health insurance wouldn’t be super excited about providing me with an endless supply of ice cream, but whatevs.

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Last year, I put my rewards towards an awesome knife block to store our incredible new wedding knives.

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This year, rather than put it towards something big, I bought a bunch of selection of smaller things I really want but am always too cheap to buy:

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A 12″ cast iron skillet (I’m making pizza!!), a long-desired Silpat, cooling racks (so I don’t have to use the my stupid roasting racks anyway), and a jar of vanilla paste. I’m so excited to get to using this stuff!

Anyone else get perks like this from their health insurance? Inquiring minds want to know.

Ew

On Tuesday, I walked to work. Along the way, I smelled the following: ramen, eggs, and semen.

It was so nauseating that I was afraid I might be you know what… but really, it just happened because semen-smell at 8am is just fucking disgusting. Especially pre-coffee.

City living at it’s finest, right?

Killer breakfast sandwich

 

It started with an urge to make English muffins. Why? I saw this essay of a recipe from Tom Douglas, thought it sounded awesome, and was not willing to even read the whole thing, let alone attempt it.

So, I searched for a different recipe… and I just got confused.

Alton Brown makes a very wet batter, which he cooks in metal English muffin rings.

This very-highly rated recipe on AllRecipes.com tells you to roll out the batter and cut out circles with a biscuit cutter (or tuna can… interesting).

CountryLiving tells me to form patties with my hands.

Some recipes use powdered milk instead of milk, some add baking soda in the final rise, some swear by cast iron. Every recipe claims to have the twist needed to get the much-desired and very-elusive “nooks and crannies” that characterize Thomas Brand English muffins.

 

I literally had NO idea where to start… so I decided to choose a recipe that didn’t require any special ingredients (goodbye, Alton Brown’s powdered milk) or special ingredients (not even hacked ones, like tuna cans). I finally settled on a recipe that — of course — claimed to ACTUALLY result in nooks and crannies, and used some history and logic to do so.

The author had found old recipes that included the phrase “let rise overnight.” She knew this would result in over-proofing, which makes things airy and sour… just like an English muffin! Smart lady.

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The result was interesting. I was delighted that they looked like English muffins, but disappointed that they were so tiny — the very biggest one was only the size of my palm — and totally misshapen.

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I didn’t get so many nooks and crannies, and the texture wasn’t quite right. They were quite sour, much more so than expected, but it was a nice taste. The best part was that they smelled EXACTLY like the Thomas kind when they were toasted, which took me right back to my childhood, when my dad ate English muffins with peanut butter on a very regular basis.

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Ok… I lied. The best part was the killer breakfast sandwiches I made with these: egg, bacon, avocado, and sharp cheese. Amazing!

I’m not sure I’ll repeat this exact recipe, as I’d rather something less sour. But, it was a fun experiment, and that was one seriously fantastic breakfast sandwich!

Mashed potato meh

This past weekend, I gave into one of my homesick husband’s weirder requests: a Boston bun.

WTF is a Boston bun? It has absolutely nothing to do with Boston, nor is it even a bun. It’s essentially a spiced raisin cake made with mashed potatoes, topped with pink frosting and coconut on top.Yes, seriously.

Matt doesn’t even particularly LIKE Boston buns (can you blame him?), but for some reason, he really wanted one. I was 100% unexcited about making this. The things we do for love, right?

I made my mashed potatoes and pushed them through a sieve, and, at Matt’s request, I added mixed spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice) and used a combo of raisins, currants, and mixed peel in place of the sultanas. I used a recipe from New Zealand Women’s Weekly with tweaks from a recipe from AllRecipes.com.au (that, incidentally, had to be the least helpful recipe ever).

Add together recipes that disagreed on whether this made one or two buns, trying to conjure up self-rising flour when I only needed plain (i.e. all-purpose) to begin with, too much attention paid to the backseat-baking going on in my kitchen, and a hell of a lot of impatience to get-the-damn-thing-done-so-we-could-watch-Game-of-Thrones-already… and we got a solid “meh.”

I mean, it was kind of pretty (hell yes, I made the icing an embarrassing princess pink, because IT’S TRADITION)…

 

 

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… but, sadly, it was definitely underdone.

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Whether this was due to the confusion over number of pans and baking time, the wrong amount of baking powder, the impatience to eat it while watching GoT, or just some truly terrible toothpick-testing on my part (or all of the above) is a mystery.

That said… it didn’t taste half bad, and it was a culinary revolution compared to what I expected from mashed potato, raisins, mixed peel, nutmeg, and pink icing! It’s tasty enough that I’ve been sneaking bits off of it, mainly because that pink frosting is actually quite addicting.

 

 

 

Easter Deliciousness

 

Every year, I make hot cross buns for Mr. Mateo. I really thought I had that shit down, but this year, Matt requested an addition — mixed peel. Blarg.

Now, while mixed peel is pretty much a baking standard in English-y countries, it really isn’t here. You can find it, but it’s either stupid expensive and/or has neon green bits. Ew. So I made it.

It’s time consuming (days, people!!), but it was cheap and easy… and when Matt bit into his first bun, he danced one of the happiest little jigs I’ve ever seen. My South African friend said they reminded him of the kind his mom used to make. I even thought they tasted pretty darn good.

So worth it.

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Mixed Peel, from Australian Women’s Weekly

one orange

one lemon

one grapefruit

1/2 cups sugar

water

Peel fruit, leaving the pith on the skin. (Unclear? For sure. I figured that meant that the pith should be used. Who knows, really?). Cut peel into 5mm square bits.

Put chopped peel in a saucepan and add just enough water to cover. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain. DO THIS TWICE, but reserve 1/2 cup of liquid when draining the second time. (This should remove some of the bitterness of the pith).

Put peel into a bowl. Put reserved liquid, 1/2 cup water, and 1 cup sugar in the saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to a boil. Remove from heat, pour liquid over the peel, and let stand overnight.

Next day, put peel, liquid, and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a saucepan. Stir over low heat until sugar has dissolved, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain well. Cover a wire rack with parchment or wax paper.  Spread out peel in a single layer and let dry overnight (or longer), moving peel about occasionally with a fork.

If necessary, you can speed things up by putting peel in a low oven (150F). Monitor closely — these shouldn’t be hard. The consistency is more like the inside of an old jelly bean, if that makes any sense!

Supposedly keeps in an air-tight container for a year — we’ll see how that goes!

 

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New-and-improved Hot Cross Buns, adapted from my previous adaptation!

This recipe was lovingly converted from an Aussie recipe before I had Aussie measuring cups and spoons (which are different sizes than our US ones) — which was SUCH a pain in the ass that I continue to use it. Below, I’ve updated it to reflect the mixed peel.

600 g all-purpose flour

14 g active dry yeast

60 g sugar, put in the blender and pulverized (to resemble caster sugar)

1+ tbsp spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Amount depends on how spicy you like things — I’m sure I had 1.5-2 tbsp with about 75% of it being cinnamon.

pinch of salt

1 1/4 cup currants.

1/4 cup mixed peel

40 g unsalted butter

300 ml milk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

For flour paste:

45 g all-purpose flour

80-100 ml water

For glaze:

1.5 tbsp Lyle’s Golden Syrup

Combine flour (all but 1/2 a cup), yeast, sugar, spices, salt, currants, and mixed peel in a large bowl. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add milk and heat for 1 minute. Add the milk mixture and the eggs to the dry mixture. Mix with a spatula until dough almost comes together, then mix with hands to form a soft dough.

Dust surface with remaining 1/2 cup of dough. Knead dough on this surface for 10 mins (don’t add more flour — it’s sticky and a mess but it works!) or until dough is smooth. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 1 to 1/2 hours, or until dough doubles in size.

Cover a baking tray with parchment paper. Punch down down and knead on very lightly floured surface until smooth. Divide in 12 equal portions (mine were about 100g each), shape each portion into a ball, and then place on the tray about 1 cm apart (4 balls x 3 balls). Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 mins or until buns double in size. While rising, preheat oven to 375F.

Make the flour paste by mixing flour and water together in small bowl, adding more water if the paste is too thick. Pipe paste onto buns in the shape of a cross (I just used a ziploc bag with the corner cut off for this… no need to get fancy!). Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until buns are cooked through.

Make the glaze by heating golden syrup in the microwave in 10-sec increments until very runny. Brush warm glaze over the warm buns.

To serve: cut in half, toast, and spread with butter.

And just ’cause… some gratuitous Easter shots!

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Technicolor eggs.

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Carrot cake for two. Meh. Recipe writers — please give me a volume, not something stupid like “one small carrot.” What the heck is a “small carrot?”

America’s Test Kitchen… I expect better from you!

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Finally cracked open my custom blend, Red Nipple, made a JM Cellar’s several months ago. Delicious with our leg of lamb… another food gift for my husband!

Baking Challenge

I love baking. I love mixing up ingredients and tasting the batter. I love hopping impatiently around the oven, wildly sniffing the spiced air, watching the timer tick down to testing-time. I love proudly pulling out something browned and naughty and delicious. About the only thing I don’t love is digging out my roasting-rack-cum-cooling-rack from the bottom of the oven drawer. Infuriating. Ugh.

Recently, a heart-to-heart with my husband resulted in a decision to bake more — at least once a week, in fact — with the promise that he would feed his coworkers so we didn’t totally bomb our Weight Watchers efforts. Sunday became my baking day, and Monday became the day that Matt’s coworkers got a treat.

Perhaps in the future I’ll get my shit together, figure out how to take a decent picture, and post on a more regular basis. For now, here’s a month’s worth of baking.

Week #1: Pear Kuchen, based on a recipe shared by my friend and former boss, Nicole. Ridiculously easy, quite delicious, not very pretty!

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Week #2: Raspberry Chocolate Rugelach, from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. Super time consuming, totally misshapen, and flipping delicious! I really don’t like fruit (especially raspberries) polluting my chocolate, but these were fantastic. The Boeing engineers approved!

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Week #3: A double-dose of cookies! First, so-called Healthy Cookies for a friend who recently started chemotherapy and is trying to eat clean. These had no butter, no flour, and no sugar… and remarkable still tasted pretty decent! Second, for St Patrick’s Day, the in-no-way-Irish Homemade Thin Mints, which were like, really, *REALLY* good, even though I only realized in hindsight that I should have tempered the chocolate… which reminds me that, well, I should probably learn how to temper chocolate.

Week #4: Another double-dose! First, and most spectacularly (with nary a photo to relish), an incredible flourless concoction adorably called the “Tiny but Intense Chocolate” cake, courtesy of the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, and baked for some dear friends who came over for dinner. This cake necessitated a 6″ cheesecake pan, for which I ventured to a baking store called “Home Cake” in Maple Leaf. This place was for PROS, guys, and looked like a baking-supply-hoarder’s garage. The lady in line in front of me was buying sugar flowers for a cake she was baking for a photoshoot for the cover of her cookbook. Intimidating much?

Second… Pioneer Woman’s Strawberry Oatmeal Bars, made with raspberry jam instead, since 1) I had it, and 2) without the tartness, these would be sickly sweet. I’ve never seen something so totally full of fat and sugar while appearing so innocuous! Dangerous, I tell you! These are fantastic, and remind me of a delicious raspberry-crumbly-bar-thing we used to serve at my college cafe. I estimate they were responsible for at least 10 of the 75 pounds I gained in college. I probably shouldn’t make these again.

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So… so far, so good… and each week, I look forward to picking a recipe, tying on my cupcake apron, and seeing what happens…

 

What I’ve Been Up To: A List in Pictures (and a few words too, because… well, just because)

I’ve been cooking:

Spiced Chickpea Pie filling… even more delicious over rice than in a pie!

Smoky Corn Chowder with Shrimp. OMG.

Making dessert:

Rocky Road Ice Cream, recipe from The Perfect Scoop

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Spice English Muffin Bread with Brown Sugar Butter. Um, yes please.

Sugared Toasted Almond Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

Drinking lots of wine:

I DID NOT DO THIS. My husband did. Weirdo.

Riding the Big Wheel:

Oh my god, I was terrified!!!

Knitting baby items:

No, not for me. For friends!

Finishing up the fourth Game of Thrones so I can upload the fifth one to the Kindle I’m getting in the mail TONIGHT:

Buying too much stuff online,

Admiring our wedding “guestbook” that Matt hung up as a surprise the other night:

… and wondering how all that dust got into my camera!

 

Kind of ridiculous

Today, I, who argues vehemently for paper books, who scoffs at the reading experience on e-readers, who bores of looking at screens… ordered a Kindle.

I had a good reason, you see. I’m almost ready for the fifth book in the Game of Thrones series, and it’s only out in hardcover, and it’s about as big (and heavy) as my head.

So, since I:

1) didn’t want to carry around a monster book,

2) didn’t want to carry around Matt’s ridiculously big and heavy Kindle, and

3) refused to wait until March for the paperback to come out,

I bought a freaking Kindle.

I’m an idiot and a hypocrite, clearly — but I’m excited.

Making money

OH BAM.

Part of the reason we registered at Macy’s was for their really great rewards. Yes, they upcharge, but things are constantly on sale, and their registry gives you a 10% discount for completion and cash back for purchases made off your registry. Suh-weet.

I’ve been wanting to buy the serving dishes that go with our dinnerware, but I’ve been waiting for the best sale — and today, I totally scored.

The serving platter and two serving bowls originally came to $130 before tax.

They had a regular sale on these items, and an additional 20% off for President’s Day (better than my 10% completion discount) = $78.81 with tax.

minus $45.35 gift card

minus $31.53 Macy’s card credit from a previous return*

= $1.93.

BUT WAIT.

I signed up for a cash rebate site called Ebates** and will get 3% cash back for this purchase — likely $2.16…

which means we made 19 cents!

Freaking go me.

*Yes, I do realize that a credit means I previously spent the money — but when it’s a credit it feels like free money… amiright?

**It sounds like a scam, and yet it is not. Go to Ebates, sign up, and just go there BEFORE you shop online at one of their many thousands of listed stores. They send you rebate checks once a quarter. It’s pretty awesome, honestly! They have a referral program, so if you want to sign up, won’t you pretty please use my link?

ModCloth

So, has anyone purchased off ModCloth before? I never have, but I’ve been sorely tempted… and then a friend passed a $20 discount my way… and I ran out of excuses.

(Want the discount, too? Click here to sign up. You’ll get $20 off any $50 order placed by Oct 31, and I’ll get $20 too. Win win!)

Oh man, I splurged.

It started with the green cardigan. I had a long green cardigan I LOVED that started developing holes, and it almost made me cry to throw it away. I saw this one and, oh, how I want it to be as pretty in person as it looks!

Leaf if for Later Cardigan, $37.99

I would have stopped there… but I had to spend $50 to get the discount, you know? I saw this great rusty red dress… and I wanted to wear it with my new brown boots while tromping through colorful fallen leaves. So, I bought the last one.

Rusted Route Dress, out of stock

And since we’re on the subject of dresses… this pink number has all the figure-flattering elements I like (i.e. fitted to the waist only)… and it’s swishy. And it matches my fingernails. No, that’s not a good reason.

Just About Anywhere Dress, $44.99

And, lastly, I decided to toss in an ivory cardigan. I’ve been on the hunt for one, because now that I have brown boots I need a cardigan that isn’t black. Plus, it would look really cute with that pink dress, no? And this one has five star reviews, as in comes a whole slew of cute colors. Maybe I’ll have hit the cardigan holy grail. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Charter School Cardigan in Ivory, $34.99

So, oops. This wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t been on a terrible shopping spree for the last, um, several weeks. At least I haven’t bought anything full price… right???

Bueller?

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