my second organized tandem cycling experience ever

Shipley's

Mmmmmm...donut...

On November 7, we strapped our KHS on the car and drove out to the Sun & Ski in Katy to ride the Tour de Donut. We rode the 28 mile route and joined the timed race even though we told ourselves we’d take it easy especially since it was going to be my longest distance cycling ever. i guess we figured it wouldn’t hurt to try for the ski trip for two should some miracle happen that day and our bike either grew wings or our stomachs expanded to fit one million donuts.

The weather was extremely chilly for me that morning–maybe upper 40s? Luckily, I had just made a trip to Performance Bike to buy biking pants (which still left my calves naked) and a skull cap to wear underneath the helmet. I wore a windbreaker jacket and winter gloves underneath my biking gloves, too, and I was still cold. Once we started biking and the wind hit my face, I grew to understand why John was considering buying the full face mask. You may look like a scary robber but it’s totally worth it; that wind is vicious, and I was even cold from the stoker position. Poor John; he had to bear the brunt of the wind being on the front of the bike.

By the time we made it to the first rest stop, however, it was getting warmer. The donuts were cold but putting something in my stomach still helped to warm my body up. There were two rest stops for the 28-mile ride, and between the two of us, we ate seven donuts. We biked it in 2:33 including the two stops we made to eat and pee and the one stop we made so John could help a guy change his flat. According to our trustworthy Cyclemeter, we were in motion for two hours, which means we averaged 14-15 mph. Not bad. The app also told us we did hit over 20 mph a few times, but that wind was killer.

It was nice once the sun came out but I wish John would’ve put the speakers on the bike. It’s nice to view the suburban landscape while biking, but if you’re the Blind Cook, what can you do besides listen to cars passing you up?

In the end, after taking into account our time and donuts eaten (which shaved off five minutes each), we finished just about in the middle. I guess that makes us average bikers on the tandem. But it was a fun time I got to spend with my hubby getting some exercise and doing it all for a good cause. Thanks to Shipley’s and Sun & Ski for sponsoring the Tour. Till next year…

broccoli rice casserole

Recounting the first Thanksgiving I ever hosted back in 2001 (the year I graduated college and finally had a kitchen and place I could call my very own), in addition to the deep-fried turkey, I made this broccoli rice casserole. I probably found the recipe online but I honestly don’t remember where–it could’ve possibly been before I discovered All Recipes.

Regardless, it was very simple to make, and my dad raved about it, asking to take home a chunky portion as part of his Thanksgiving leftovers. My friend, Mark, also asked for the recipe, followed by Danny years later. Nearly going on its tenth year in the making, this dish is a must-have at all my holiday comfort food gatherings. I’ve also brought it to several potlucks; up or down the ingredients according to number of people. Remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.

Note: I’ll upload a photo of the dish come Thanksgiving when we actually make it. For now. here’s a photo of the Pancake Bunny.



Pancake bunny

Do you like my new hat?



Recipe: Broccoli Rice Casserole

Ingredients

  • 20 oz. frozen chopped broccoli, cooked and drained
  • 2 (10.75 oz.) cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 16 oz. processed cheese, melted
  • 3/4 c. minced onion
  • 2 c. uncooked minute rice
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Cook minute rice as directed.
  2. In a med. pan, saute onion in butter over med.-high heat until yellowed.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. In a lg. bowl, mix broccoli, onion, cheese, cream of mushroom, rice, and salt & pepper to taste until well-blended. Pour mixture into a 10″x13″ casserole dish. Bake for 60 min. or until edges are browned.

Quick Notes

I personally like the edges and even the top pretty brown. It adds flavor and texture.

For the cheese, I like to use Cheez-Whiz.

Cooking time (duration): 75

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

Microformatting by hRecipe.

deep-fried turkey

Fried turkey

Frying the turkey



For nine years and counting, it’s been my little tradition to fry a turkey for Thanksgiving. In 2001 when I started my first job out of college, my Louisianan coworker, Brandi, informed me her family deep-fries a turkey every year for Thanksgiving. I pictured a spicy flour battered turkey–just like Popeye’s chicken but in whole bird form and five times larger. I was surprised to learn that fried turkey wasn’t battered at all–simply rubbed down with Cajun spice and then thrown (very carefully) into a vat of hot peanut oil. I was a little disappointed since fried chicken skin is always the best part but since everyone and their mama claimed fried turkey is so good, I decided to give the turkey frying a try anyway.

To try this at home, I recommend acquiring the following items:

  • 1 40-qt. stockpot with basket (these are usually sold together for turkey and crawfish cooking purposes–both Southern/Louisianan dishes)
  • 1 propane burner for outdoor cooking
  • 1 propane tank
  • 1 lg. pc. cardboard to lay under burner so oil splatters won’t stain your concrete

You can find the turkey fryer at Academy; I personally found mine at Tuesday Morning for about $50 if I remember correctly. The propane burner and tank is from Wal-Mart. I imagine you could probably make one stop at a Home Depot or Lowe’s and find all these things.

The advantages of frying a turkey are:

  1. It’s delicious. Once I went fried, I never went back. Even the breast meat is juicy.
  2. It’s quick. Roasting a turkey takes anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes per pound depending on if it’s stuffed or not, and you have to tend to it frequently for basting. Frying, on the other hand, takes 3.5 minutes per pound, just a fraction of the time it takes to roast the bird. And once you get it in the fryer, you don’t have to touch it till it’s finished.

The disadvantage? Obviously, it’s not as healthy. But when you’re stuffing yourself with mashed potatoes and casseroles and pies for the holidays anyway, who cares? That’s the Southern motto.

This turkey has received rave reviews from every mouth it’s touched for the last nine years. So why not do it yourself this year? John and I like to sit in our garage and driveway, pop open a beer, and relax while taking in the wonderful smells of deep-fried turkey.

Note: This photo of the turkey was actually taken in 2006 because the one we took of the turkey this year was half carved and not a good picture.



Fried turkey 2

The tasty end result



Recipe: Deep-Fried Turkey

Summary: Call it Cajun, call it Southern. I just call it damn delish.

Ingredients

  • 3 ga. peanut oil for frying
  • 1 whole turkey, no more than 14 lbs.
  • 1/4 c. cajun or creole seasoning
  • 1 jar cajun or creole marinade with syringe for injecting

Instructions

  1. The day before cooking, remove giblets and rinse turkey. Pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Inject turkey with marinade: 1 syringe-ful in ea. leg, 1 in ea. thigh, 1 in ea. wing, and 2 in ea. breast. During injection, pull syringe out slowly while pushing down plunger to spread marinade evenly throughout meat.
  3. Rub inside and outside liberally with seasoning. Marinate in refrigerator overnight.
  4. When ready to cook, fill 40-qt. pot with 3 gal. peanut oil. (This should fill about half the pot.) Heat oil on high heat to 400 degrees or until oil has lines in it, indicating high heat.
  5. Make sure skin at turkey neck has at least a 2″ opening so oil doesn’t get trapped inside the bird later. Place turkey in basket neck side down.
  6. Slowly lower basket into pot. Cook 3.5 min./lb. or until internal temperature of thigh is 180 degrees.
  7. Remove turkey and let it sit for 20 min. before carving.

Quick Notes

Note that it takes 24 hours to thaw five lbs. of turkey. I.e. a 14-lb. turkey will take 72 hours. And remember that it needs to be fully thawed before the marinade can be injected, which means if I had a 14-lb. turkey I wanted to fry on Thanksgiving Thursday, I need to move it from the freezer into the fridge Sunday morning (thawed by Wednesday so it can marinate a full 24 hours before going into the fyer.

For the marinade, we always use Tony Chachere‘s Creole butter flavor. As for the rub, we used both Rudy’s turkey rub and Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning.

Peanut oil is ideal for deep-frying because it has a high smoking point.

Birds 14 lbs. or less are ideal for this method of cooking–any larger, and the bird’s skin could be overexposed to the hot oil, resulting in a charred skin. And we can’t have that considering skin is the best part!

Be extremely careful when frying the turkey. They say you should cook this completely outdoors in case a grease fire shoots up to the sky, but we always cook ours in the garage and have yet to have a black hole on our ceiling. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Southern)

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who gets nmo?

This question has posed a puzzle for doctors and scientists for years. Who is likely to be diagnosed with NMO? What triggers NMO? What are the underlying causes of NMO? How can NMO be prevented, treated, cured? Like other autoimmune diseases, nobody has the answers. From what I’ve learned through the course of my condition by personal research and the 2010 Rare Neuroimmunologic Disorders symposium, a person with NMO has to: (1) possess the genetic susceptibility for the disease, and (2) be exposed to the environmental factor that triggers the disease. Both must happen in order for NMO to develop; they are not mutually exclusive.

On that note, I recently attended the NMO Patient Day in L.A. sponsored by the Guthy-Jackson Foundation (to be outlined in a future post) where I befriended E and J, two young women who, like me, are ambitious and proactive types. All three of us are “newly” married without children–E for three years, J for three months, and me for six months. All three of us are thinking about possibly having children, forging forward in our vocations while being good wives to our husbands. Over dinner while the men talked man talk, E, J, and I discussed how it seems most of the people with NMO share similar qualities: determined, intelligent, strong-minded and strong-willed personalities. Nobody we met was just sitting around on their couch watching “Jersey Shore” marathons. Everyone was doing something in addition to dealing with their NMO. And almost all of them were women.

What did this all mean? E, J, and I had no idea, but I pointed out that it seems autoimmune diseases often inflict people with high stress levels. This is no surprise since most of our attacks and symptoms arise almost immediately after or even during stressful life situations. (This was, in fact, noted by the doctors.)

I thought back to all the people with NMO I’ve gotten to know over the years either online, on the phone, or in person. All of them, with the exception of two (one whom I never had contact with but I’ve kept in touch with his mother), all have been female. Additionally, all are driven, and compassionate individuals. Everyone has been open in sharing their stories and struggles; perhaps this is due to the fact that NMO is very rare and so we have to be candid with our lives in order to make connections which are rare in itself since our network is so small. E pointed out that most people she’s met with MS are much more private about their condition, and I reasoned that because MS is more widespread and the research more advanced, MS patients can keep quiet and still receive adequate treatment. NMO, on the other hand, is an orphan disease, and so with the little research and resources available to NMO patients, we feel we need to speak up, speak out, and speak loudly about our disease in order to move and shake the medical world. “Hello! We need help too!” But when I think about S and B whom I’ve been in contact with for several years now ever since my diagnosis in 2003, I find that they, too, are like E, J, and me. Of course, the future of NMO medicine cannot simply be hinged upon similar traits without hard evidence, but I can’t help but wonder why the majority of us with NMO are this particular type of woman. Any thoughts?

“quick” & easy vietnamese chicken noodle soup

Pho ga

A comfort food staple in our home

Ahh…the most famous Vietnamese dish in conjunction with the baguette sandwich, banh mi thit. How can we talk about comfort foods and not talk about pho? Pho ga–or noodle soup with chicken–is perhaps my favorite of the pho family. I grew up eating pho on occasional Sunday mornings, and while I know it’s a cliche to say so, my mama seriously made the best pho. Seriously. The best. My parents’ friends had even urged her to open up a little pho restaurant. She was bestowed the recipe by a Vietnamese chef she once knew. Unfortunately, my mama died before I ever got the chance to learn her secrets, and my dad never found the written gem anywhere. Quite literally, she took the secret to the grave.

Years later, I discovered Quoc Viet, a handy little brand of soup base. They make a variety of soup bases, including pho bo (Hanoi beef noodle soup), bo kho (beef stew), and bun bo Hue (spicy lemongrass beef noodle soup from central Vietnam), to name a few. I have yet to be disappointed by any of the outcomes using Quoc Viet products.

Pho is definitely a comfort food: eaten on cold days or after a late night of partying, it hits just the right spot. Vietnamese people often eat it for lunch, brunch, or even breakfast. (I’ve seen Pho Danh, which I believe has the best pho in Houston and which I will review next time I go, crowded with diners at 9 AM.)

So what makes a good pho? It’s mainly in the broth. It can’t be too oily, it has to be flavorful with the right flavors. You’d be surprised at some of the weird tasting pho broths out there. For example, Les Givrals Kahve–not to be confused with the original Givral on Bellaire, this one is an entirely different chain: one on Washington, the other on Congress–has one-dimensional broth that reeks of pepper and nothing else. Blegh.

Quoc Viet makes a delicious broth. I actually prefer my homemade quick & easy chicken pho to any other restaurant’s. One day I will attempt to make it from scratch, but till then, this is a simple yet savory substitute. And remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.


Recipe: “Quick” & Easy Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

Summary: Pho ga–instructions can be found on the label of the Quoc Viet soup base, but here is my version.

Ingredients

  • 1 jar Quoc Viet brand “chicken pho” soup base
  • 15-20 chicken legs
  • 1 pc. fresh ginger, unpeeled but washed
  • 1 whole onion, unpeeled but washed
  • 1 (13.5 oz.) can chicken broth
  • 2-3 gal. water
  • 3 pkg. rice sticks (banh pho), cooked al dente
  • 1 bunch scallion/green onion, washed & finely chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed & finely chopped
  • 3 limes, cut into sm. wedges
  • Sriracha, hoisin sauce & fish sauce to taste

Instructions

  1. In a lg. stockpot, combine chicken, ginger, and whole onion. Add enough water to cover ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Add contents of the Quoc Viet soup base, making sure not to tear open the enclosed spice bags. Boil at med. heat for 20 min.
  3. Remove chicken, ginger, onion, and spice bag. Add chicken broth to soup and adjust water to 2-3 gal. of water, depending on taste. Bring back to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and let simmer until ready to serve.
  4. Meanwhile, remove skin from chicken and shred meat.
  5. To serve, in a lg. bowl, place noodles, chicken, scallion, and cilantro. Pour steaming broth into bowl. Garnish with freshly squeezed lime juice, Sriracha, and/or hoisin sauce.

Quick Notes

I put quotation marks around the word “quick” because while it is quicker than making pho from scratch, it still takes some time to prepare.

You can often find the Quoc Viet soup bases, along with the other ingredients, at your local Asian grocery store. You can also find them online but you’ll probably have to purchase in bulk.

The specific brands of ingredients I like to use are:

  • Swanson chicken broth
  • Sriracha brand hot sauce which is a Thai sauce made of sun-ripened chili peppers and garlic
  • Koon Chun hoisin sauce

As for rice sticks, I like to get the medium-sized noodles (rather than the small that are served in most restaurants), simply because this is what my mama used to serve, and it’s nostalgic for me. As for brand, I used to get the one with a red rose on the package, but that brand has become increasingly harder to find, so I’ve resorted to using one with an elephant. Some cooks I know say it’s an abomination to use dried rice sticks, preferring to only use the fresh ones in the refrigerated section of the store. Anyone have a suggestion as to which rice stick brand I should use?

Variations

Different people like different garnishes and condiments with their pho. I personally only add lime, choosing to forego all the various sauces and veggies. Call me a purist, but I tend to like tasting the essence of a dish. For others, though, you can serve raw veggies: bean sprouts, mint, basil. My mama used to like stalks of green onion blanced in broth. Sometimes, I like slices of red onion doused in vinegar. Place these garnishes in the center of the table and let diners help themselves. Just be sure to let the newbies know it’s for the pho and not a side salad; my dad’s seen a man eat this at a restaurant before his pho came out.

This recipe should make about 20 servings.

Cooking time (duration): 60

Meal type: brunch

Culinary tradition: Vietnamese

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houston gets greener with bike share

B-cycle

Bike sharing demo in Discovery Green on Nov. 1



When we were on the Barcelona leg of our honeymoon earlier this year, John noticed there were kiosks around the city where people were seen swiping a card into a machine and then pulling a bicycle from the pile and taking off down the road with it. After a few times, John realized it was a sort of a bike share program where you could, upon running a credit card, rent a city-owned bike to get around town and then simply return it later at whichever kiosk you end up at. Even better, it’s free if you get it back to a kiosk in less than 30 minutes.

We thought this was such a neat idea: by providing an inexpensive, efficient mode of transportation for its citizens, it promotes less emissions and cleaner air. When, if ever, will Houston get on the earth-friendly bandwagon?

Well, it looks like we who are notorious for our gassy SUVs and monster trucks will not have to wait much longer. According to Laura Spanjian, Houston’s Sustainability Director, the city will launch the beginnings of a bike share program in early 2011. Houston was one of 25 communities to receive a $423,000 grant from the EPA to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, beating out 400 other competitors. (Way to go, Houston, considering you choke in almost every other competition–read: sports.) Houston also plans to use part of the grant on improving its electric car infrastructure, aiming to increase the number of charging stations from 15 to 65. With such plans in place, Spanjian hopes to meet the new EPA ozone guidelines.

I know this post doesn’t necessarily pertain to my themes of eating, cooking, and seeing vs. not seeing, but since I’ve been blogging a lot about cycling lately, I thought it was worth sharing. It’d be awesome if they added some tandems on the kiosks but somehow, I don’t picture that happening.

snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles

I like 'em soft.



Last but not least, we come to our final third course: a simple dessert that can be highly addictive. A college friend, Jeanette, gave me this recipe years ago after she baked some, and we just couldn’t get enough. Snickerdoodles are similar to sugar cookies but what sets them apart is their use of a cinnamon-sugar coating. Cinnamon reminds me of wintertime, and thus, comfort food. It also made for the perfect third course because its smaller portion and lighter taste provided a nice balance to our heavier first two courses, not to mention it’s the thing Karen always requests from me. Naturally, I had to give her what she loves for her birthday dessert. They were popular with everyone else, too. They were sliding off the plate even before dinner was served.

In the ten or so years that I’ve had this recipe, I’ve always wondered where the term snickerdoodle came from, but I never bothered looking it up. Till now, that is, when I actually have a reason to dig up some information.

My husband said he once baked snickerdoodles for school when they had a colonial history unit, so he claims snickerdoodles have been around as early as the 18th Century. After browsing around online, I found his statement to be true: the snickerdoodle originated from early America and was likely adapted from European recipes after they settled in the New World. According to the every so reliable Wikipedia resource, the origin of the name is unknown, although some claim the word is either Dutch or German while others say it was, like many other New England cookies, named on a whim. Whatever the origin, I’m just glad it finally reached me. It’s simple to bake and keeps well so could be made in large quantities and given away for the holidays.


Recipe: Snickerdoodles

Summary: Recipe from Jeanette

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. butter, softened
  • 1/2 c. shortening
  • 1.5 c. white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2.75 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. white sugar for coating
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon for coating

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a med. bowl, mix together butter, shortening, 1.5 c. sugar, and eggs. In a separate lg. bowl, blend together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Then combine mixtures until fully blended.
  3. In a sm. bowl, combine 2 tbsp. sugar and 2 tsp. cinnamon. Shape dough by rounded tablespoons (approx. golf ball size). Roll balls in mixture to coat. Place 2″ apart on cookie sheets.
  4. Bake 8 to 10 min. until set. Transfer cookies to cooling rack.

Quick Notes

This recipe yields 24 cookies. The serving size is 2 per serving.

What is cream of tartar, and why is it used in this recipe? It is a byproduct of wine-making. Grapes are a natural source of tartaric acid, and after fermentation, they leave behind a deposit of tartaric acid inside the barrels. This mixed with potassium hydroxide creates an acidic salt: cream of tartar. In baking, baking soda is the leavening agent that works faster than yeast. But it needs 2 parts of the acidic cream of tartar mixed with 1 part baking soda in order to produce the gas bubbles that lighten and raise the dough as soon as it is moistened.

Variations

Now if you want to forego 2 products and just use 1, note that 2 parts cream of tartar mixed with 1 part baking soda creates baking powder. I used to wonder what the difference was between baking soda and powder, and there you have it. Baking powder is the acidic and basic mix of the 2 ingredients thereby becoming the leavening agent in baking.

Cooking time (duration): 40

Meal type: dessert

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

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our tandem story

KHS tandem

I was asked by a friendly reader after blogging my first experience with an supported bike ride how it felt to ride on the back–the technical term being “stoker”–of the tandem bicycle. It was then that I realized I never talked about the short, short history of our tandem cycling on this blog: why we decided to get one, where we went to get it, how we picked “the one.” So here it is: a breif, brief history of our life as tandem cyclists.

It all started when John decided to bike the MS150, a two-day, 180-mile supported ride from Houston to Austin held every April in support of raising money for MS research and the National MS Society. His first year doing the ride was only one-and-a-half years ago in 2009. By chance, the Houston Chronicle learned of his story–how his girlfriend at the time (that’s me) had an autoimmune condition similar to MS and how that inspired him to ride the ride–and decided to run an article about us. (The printed version, which we plan to frame one day along with the bandana I decorated for him, is sitting in a plastic sleeve on our shelf.)

So with John getting into biking and having done the MS150 for two years (2009-2010), I thought it would be cool if I could join him, not necessarily to do a full-out MS150, but to get regular exercise and do a few locally supported charity rides. The only other time I rode a tandem was in Vancouver with Joanna, and once we got the communication down, it was fun and easy. But with John, I was afraid that his experience combined with my novitiate would make for constant bickering to the point where the poor bicycle would be casted aside to the dusty corner of our garage. Regardless, we took the risk and decided a tandem bike would be our wedding gift to ourselves. So a few weeks after the dust had settled from our wedding, John and I drove up to House of Tandems in Spring, test rode a KHS, fell in love with it, and dished out the [insert amount equivalent to five thousand packages of ramen] for one we could call our very own. It was custom-built with a matte-finished champagne colored frame, Ultegra 105 components, and a Cateye computer to record our speed, RPMs, etc.

For some time, our bike remained in the garage. It was just too damn hot in Houston to ride. At one point, we even had a flat on it because it sat idle for so long. But now that the weather is cooling, biking is more bearable, so we’ve ventured to take the KHS out more.

Riding a tandem as a stoker (back) versus a captain (front) takes both more and less energy, depending on how you look at it. The captain has to steer, which requires more concentration, but the stoker is supposed to be the stronger “pedaler.” But obviously in our situation, I have to be the weak-pedaling stoker. Pedaling on a tandem isn’t difficult though–I manage to move us forward at a decent pace even when John picks up his feet and I have to pedal for the both of us. In fact, it’s kind of nice because when I get lazy, I just rest my helmet on his back and close my eyes while my legs simply go through the cycling motion.

Tandem cycling, like any other team sport, requires communication. John has to call out such warnings as “Going!”, “Slowing!”, and “Stopping!” This way I can clip in and clip out with my shoes, something I still have trouble with in spite of my egg beater pedals. My main complaint, however, would have to be the uncomfortable stock seat. Even though I wore my padded shorts, my crotch was tender (bruised?) for three days after the Midnight Ramble. After urinating, I couldn’t even properly wipe myself–I had to gently dab all the while gritting my teeth. Needless to say, John and I are planning to replace the seats in time for the Tour de Donut (which we are riding the day this post is scheduled to publish). Hook up John’s iPod speakers to the thing, and we’re ready to go.

Biking in itself is fun. I get aerobic exercise; build lean muscle in my back, arms, and legs; and enjoy the sounds and smells of what I’m sure is scenic Houston. Yes, it would be nice if I could enjoy the sights, too, but being able to feel the breeze on my face is enough to get me out there cycling.

real men bake banana nut & pumpkin nut breads

Pumpkin nut bread

Pumpkin nut bread made entirely from scratch

Recently, John and I took a leisure trip to Macy’s in search of things on which we could use the last of our registry Star Rewards credit. Ever since the Paris part of our honeymoon, John has been on a French baguette kick. About a month ago, he decided to finally give baguette baking a try. He bought bread flour, looked up recipes, rolled up his sleeves, and started kneading. The first baguette looked awesome but wasn’t fluffy like a true baguette. The second attempt looked unappetizing and hardened into a rock within two days. Then our friend, Mei-Mei, said, “Why don’t you just buy a bread maker?”

At first, John was reluctant; he knew that now, when any bread turned out delicious, it wouldn’t be due to his blood, sweat, and tears. He would have to give most of the credit to the boxy machine on our kitchen counter. But we had leftover credit at Macy’s and opted for the Cuisinart CBK-200, a 2-pound convection automatic bread maker. The thing is heavy-duty, taking up a fourth of our counter space, but what it lacks in sleekness, it makes up for in efficiency and convenience. Now all John has to do is pour the measured ingredients into the machine, close the lid, and turn it on. It’ll beep when it’s ready for mix-ins (e.g. nuts) and beep again once it’s done. Like a slow cooker, we can just throw everything in and forget about it for a few hours. Then later when we return to it, we’ll have a freshly baked bread. A bonus is how nice the house smells when you’ve got something baking. Mouth-watering, I say.

In the month we’ve had it, John’s used it to make a French loaf, banana bread, pizza dough, and the latest creation, pumpkin walnut bread. Except for the French loaf (which still turned out edible), everything has been pretty damn delicious. He’s gotten a lot of compliments for his breads, and while our friend Daniel said that with all this baking, John’s lost his nuts in his bread, John says real men bake.

The truth is I’m happy John’s been spending more time in the kitchen. It gives the Blind Cook a much needed break. The following recipe is one he found online for banana nut bread. He used the same recipe to make both the banana bread and the pumpkin walnut bread; for the former, he baked it sans nuts since we didn’t have any on hand, and for the latter, he simply substituted the bananas with the fresh pumpkin he had spent five hours the other evening preparing. (That in itself was a whole ordeal. First he had to cut open the pumpkin, roast it in the oven with a layer of brown sugar on top to sweeten the field pumpkin, puree it in the food processor. That wasn’t all. Then I had to stand there with a knee-high sock in hand, which we read was an acceptable substitute for cheesecloth, while he spooned globs of pumpkin puree into it in order to extract all the water from the orange mass. Craziness, I tell you.)

But what we got out of it was a pumpkin walnut bread truly made from scratch. I’m so proud of my hubby. If a computer geek can bake it, so can you. You just may need to throw some money down for a bread machine first.

Banana bread

Banana bread sans the nuts



Recipe: Banana Nut or Pumpkin Nut Bread for the Bread Machine

Summary: Original recipe from the Bread Maker section of All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. margarine or butter, softened
  • 2/3 c. milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2.5 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. white sugar
  • 2.5 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 c. mashed bananas or pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts

Instructions

  1. Spray bread machine pan with vegetable oil spray.
  2. Pre-mix ingredients in the order listed. Place mixture in bread machine pan.
  3. Select the “Quick Bread/Cake” cycle. Press “Start.” Check after 1 min. to see if dough is well-blended.
  4. Cook until cycle ends. Remove pan and cool completely before removing bread from pan.

Quick Notes

For best results, use King Arthur flour. It’s more expensive but seems worth it for quality breads.

Baking powder = 2 parts cream of tartar + 1 part baking soda. This will be further explained in my snickerdoodles post.

The prep time listed below only accounts for the mixing of ingredients and does not include the time it spends in the bread machine.

Variations

We’ve used this same recipe to make both banana bread and pumpkin nut bread. I’m sure there are other mushy fruits/purees that could be added into this bread. Why not try?

Cooking time (duration): 10

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: snack

Culinary tradition: USA (General)

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country green beans

Let’s face it. Most Southern cookin’ recipes are not the healthiest–fried this, fried that, butter this, lard that. Typically, a hefty scoop of mashed potatoes would go wonderful with this birthday meal #2 next to the chicken fried chicken and the baked mac ‘n cheese, but I decided to “healthen” it up a bit and cook some fresh green beans instead. The nice thing about this choice is that it also adds color to the dish, making it more appealing to our visual sense. (I know this shouldn’t matter to the Blind Cook, but I am, after all, cooking for others who are sighted.)

Okay, so once I took a look at the list of ingredients, the green beans didn’t look too healthy any more, but I figured I’d be using much more butter in mashed potatoes, so better to just stick with the greens.

It turned out this was the only dish that incurred no leftovers. Was it because a pound of beans could easily be devoured by six hungry stomachs? I like to think that it was just that good. The best thing about these country green beans, however, may be that it was damn easy to cook. I mean, look at the instructions–it’s only one step!


Recipe: Country Green Beans

Summary: Original recipe from All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 1/4 c. chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 c. chopped cooked bacon
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 c. water
  • salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a med. saucepan, combine all ingredients. Cover and simmer over med. heat until beans are cooked through, about 15 to 20 min.

Quick Notes

You can use kitchen scissors to trim the ends off green beans. But being blind, I found that snapping them off with my fingers was more efficient. This will work if the beans are fresh enough to snap easily. Otherwise, they’ll be too soft and pliable, and you’ll end up losing more bean. In this case, stick with the scissors.

Variations

The original recipe used ham, but since I already had turkey bacon on hand from the clam chowder, I decided to use that instead.

Cooking time (duration): 25

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Southern)

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