“Be Yourself! I’m talking to you, Cucumbers!”: Butter-Baked Cucumbers

Welcome to part two of the four part series breaking down the latest additions to my cookbook collection, Lemons, Cucumbers, Honey, and Strawberries from Short Stack Editions, short form, ingredient-specific cookbooks.

On the last episode of Under the Parrot Umbrella: We made the angriest lemonade, a recipe based off of the “whole lemonade” recipe from Lemons by Alison Roman.

Next up…

Cucumbers! More like Cool-cumbers! Am I right??!


Answer: no. I’m not right.

I’ve loved cucumbers ever since I stole my dad’s from his house salads on the periodic Friday-night trips to Outback. I love them in salads. Pickled. Or even just chopped in a bowl with a nice salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice.

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Gretchen Roehrs

Sometimes in the course of my research/googles-gone-awry, I run into things that are too charming, interesting, or striking for me not to share. No advice, no pearls of wisdom- I’m definitely, pretty much, mostly very certain those are reasons you decide to stop by- just something cool that might brighten your day. This week? The fashion illustrations of Gretchen Roehrs.

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Recipe Review: Chicken and Rice a la Food Lab

Some things…

this is a garbage system.

  1. The threshold on my AC unit between “Why do you hate me” cold and “I want to die” hot is only visible by microscope.
  2. My birthday was last week!
  3. I recently had a bit of a crohn’s flare.

I’ve mentioned it briefly in the past, but to clarify, I have crohn’s disease. And for those unfamiliar with the comings and goings of autoimmune diseases, you deal in ebbs and flows. Flares and remission. Totally fine and not-at-all fine.

Or in the case of my and my Crohnie-colon, totally fine and low-to-medium fine. I’m pretty lucky as crohn’s disease goes, but the flares are there and one struck this week.

When that happens, there is a certain diet I cling to while I wait for my medicine to dole out some talking-tos. The food is as inoffensive as possible, so your system can get back online while you also don’t pass out, and inadvertently pull a hilarious prank on your officemate.

My pranks are really great.

Basically-real thought processes when in dietary recovery mode:

Does this thing I’m eating taste like something?
Well, stop eating it!

Am I enjoying eating this thing?
…I mean, kind of.
What are you thinking?!? (Left hand smacks the Salt & Vinegar chips out of right hand)

How’s that baked chicken and plain rice treating you?
…Tastes like sadness.

For me, take the BRAT diet- bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast- and add plain chicken. BRACT. BARCT. Almost-CRABS!

Sunday through Monday: A banana. Chicken and rice. Applesauce. Another banana. Chicken and more rice. Applesauce. Chicken and noodles, but basically rice. More applesauce. More rice, and also chicken. Three bananas. Rice shaped into a chicken.

On Wednesday, I felt my body gain a little traction. So, I logically deemed it all right to eat a strawberry milkshake, a cheeseburger, cream soda, and roughly 42 cherry Starbursts. (The best Starburst.) The next morning, I woke up with aches radiating out from both hips, a telltale sign I’ve done a bad thing.

It was then I decided, I needed to become a person who doesn’t assume 42 cherry Starbursts are fine. Who doesn’t currently have a deep and meaningful relationship with Flaming Hot Cheetos. Who doesn’t eat bleu cheese and hot sauce on crackers when it was too late to make dinner.

It was time to be a person! I’m 28 now! It’s time to eat vegetables and drink water and make peace with chicken and rice! Optional: Don’t make an art out of “on a cracker” meals.

Like a person-who-makes-delicious-things from above, Kenji Lopez-Alt posted a recipe on The Food Labs Facebook page for, get this, chicken and also rice. More specifically, halal-cart chicken.

It’s sound delicious. Let’s do this thing:

The chicken

I’ve said it before. Raw meat is super gross, you guys, but then it turns into delicious things, and you forget you were once faced with a bird autopsy!

I’ve also become convinced, the way to make killer chicken is a nuclear accident a marinade. And Kenji’s was pretty great.

garlic, olive oil, garlic, garlic, and also oregano

As per usual, I didn’t want to spend the seemingly thousands and thousands of dollars five dollars per spice, so instead I just upped the garlic! Never a bad idea! (Except those times it was a bad idea.)

My paranoia-pro-tip for marinading meat is the protector bowl. My biggest refrigerator-based fear is the Ziploc bag bursting, and the bowl sees to it that you don’t have to worry about that! Now, you can spend all your time worrying about spontaneous-refrigerator-explosion.

Come to think of it, other people might already use the paranoia-bowl. How should I know? I just became a person this week.

Four hours later, and it’s time to cook the chicken.

Kenji’s instructions: “Add the chicken pieces and cook without disturbing until they are lightly browned on the first side, about 4 minutes. Using tongs, flip the chicken. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the chicken is cooked through and the center of each thigh registers 165°F. on an instant-read thermometer, about 6 minutes longer.”

Ok. At this point, I’m looking at my three packs of chicken thighs (I grabbed an extra to cook for work lunches), and looking at his estimate of “6 to 8” pieces in his recipe. I count, and I have 20 chicken thighs. Something has gone wrong.

But what do you do with extra raw chicken?* You cook it!

enter: skillet

It very quickly became apparent that the following things were true:

  • This chicken is already disturbed. I’m cooking it. I think jostling it around the pan is the worst of it’s problems.
  • I’m not going to measure the temperature, Kenji. I’m just going to keep flipping it looks e coli-averse.
  • I’m going to die before I cook all of this chicken.

47 years later and two different shirts being treated for oil splashes, the chicken is finally done. On to the rice…

The Rice

I originally set out for this to be a one-pot recipe. It actually worked out that I was wildly inpatient, and pulled out a skillet.

According to the recipe, you melt some butter and toast the rice before cooking it, but I still wanted the good flavor bits still left in the bottom of my skillet.

Recipe-Rogue! Take half a cup of the chicken broth, and while the skillet is still hot, use it to scrape off all the flavor left behind. When the rice is done toasting, pour that into your dutch oven with the rest of your chicken broth.

Recipe-Rogue (AGAIN)! I have a hard time digesting certain vegetables -I’ve essentially written kale out of my life- but when I cook rice or soups, I always like to get some extra vegetables that the recipe doesn’t call for. It allows me to sneak some nutrition and texture in, and because with rice and soups, you’re letting it cook for longer, it doesn’t have quite the same “consequences.” Basically, cook the hopes and dreams out of it, you guys.

This time, I went with cabbage. I mixed it in with the rice when toasting it, and it was perfectly cooked by the time the rice was ready.

The Sauce

Truth be told, I didn’t go with Kenji’s sauce. It’s probably delicious, but in an effort to keep this meal as stomach-friendly as possible, I steered clear of the mayo.

I ended up crafting a homegrown tzatziki. I highly recommend Ina Garten’s tzatziki, but if you’re feeling a little more slapdash (and I will admit, nothing about this is authentic), here’s my version:

  • 2 cups of plain greek yogurt
  • 1 cucumber, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup champagne vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • Dill till your heart’s content.

Here’s how…

  1. Realize you bought vanilla yogurt. Walk back to the grocery store. Double check that you got plain yogurt.
  2. Seed and chop the cucumbers.
  3. Dump all of it in a bowl.
  4. Eat with everything.

I added some radishes and some shredded carrots, and all in all, I really like this dinner plate. It’s got flavor, but nothing that would rock the boat. Would I recommend this recipe? Yes!

Do I still want to eat 42 cherry starbursts? Yes.

Growth is a process, guys.

*You freeze it. I’m realizing now that you freeze it. Bad call, self.

Tis the season!

New York City isn’t always an easy place to love. You basically just hemorrhage money the minute you walk out the door. There is the constant fear of bugs with bed-related proclivities (I still don’t like saying the real name). I’ve seen more business men relieving themselves in the bushes of Washington Square Park than most. And in the summer, my favorite activity was simply standing in the fan aisle of the Bed, Bath & Beyond on 6th.

This is the season, however, where New York gets really really great. Holiday markets start appearing. Christmas tree stands line the sidewalks. Businesses start decorating their windows for the holidays. And, the chill in the air killed off all the mosquitos!

This is the season that brings to mind everything I love about the city. No hot-dog water smell. No real estate brokers. Just walking city blocks that smell like evergreen with a malted hot chocolate from Shake Shack in my hands.

See? I’m getting obnoxiously nostalgic about it. Sorry, guys.

Until I find a giant box full of money, I won’t be going to New York or anywhere any time soon. I need to be ok with that. Until then, I think it’s worth trying to bring some tastes of New York to Wisconsin.

One of my favorite places to stop on the way home from the library was the Momofuku Milk Bar in the East Village. Imagine a small, cool bakery that is also really confusing. Hear me out.

They are known for unexpected flavors and unexpected combinations of flavors. For example, their cereal milk ice cream tastes like the milk left behind in the cereal bowl. The compost cookie is made up of chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, graham crackers, oats, coffee grounds, potato chips, and pretzels. Their Thanksgiving croissant is stuffed with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. Their food is awesome, if initially a little confusing.

And while today I’m not making any of the Milk Bar classics, it is a recipe from chef Christina Tossi, the “pastry-chef owner” of Momofuku Milk Bar, in her cookbook Milk Bar Life.

It is the Ritz Cracker ice box cake.

Ice box cakes are awesome. And ridiculous, but mostly awesome. The formula is you layer whipped cream with a cracker or a cookie. You stick it in your “ice box” for a few hours, and when you pull it out, the cream and the crackers will smoosh? Meld? Squidge? Gloop? Yes, gloop together, so you can cut into it like a cake.

When I was initally flipping through her cookbook, this recipe just grossed me out frankly, but considering my initial feelings about cereal milk ice cream, I thought I should give it a chance. Especially since I am on my “GIVE ME NEW YORK FOOD” crusade. While it’s not a Milk Bar classic, I like to think it’s very much in the theme of “…let’s make it weird in here.”

The recipe just calls for three ingredients.

Seems like a great start.

Seems like a great start.

  • Ritz Crackers
  • 1 1/2 cups of grape jelly (technically could be any flavor of jelly)
  • 2 8-oz containers of whipped cream

Kind of pretty? But also weird.

  1. Fold together the jelly and the whipped cream. It will be gross. Then it will be kind of pretty
  2. Start layering the grape jelly/whipped cream concoction.
  3. Pause for a moment to decide if this is the weirdest thing you’ve ever made or if it is just up there on the list.
  4. Chill for at least four hours.
Maybe just weird. Jury is still out.

Maybe just weird. Jury is still out.

Review of the recipe: Befuddling. And also pretty good? You’re not going to like it if you don’t like the combination of sweet and salty. Also, as I type and eat a serving, it looses a little charm after the first four or five bites. It takes a few bites to figure out what you’re tasting. The jelly and whipped cream by itself is too sweet, and the Ritz crackers by themselves are too buttery, so each element balances out the other. However, about five bites in, your tongue figures out the score and suddenly all you can taste is grape jelly. All in all, I’m a bigger fan of the ice box cake I made two weeks ago (pumpkin puree and powdered sugar folded into whipped cream, and layered with graham crackers), but when in doubt, we did it for science.

Review of the book: Milk Bar Life and I have a little mileage under our belts at this point. I even tried to cook it once.

"Boiling water shouldn't smell like burning. Why do I smell burning?"

“Boiling water shouldn’t smell like burning. Why do I smell burning?”

The book includes some really cool, unexpected ideas. Poaching fish in pickle juice, salt & pepper cookies (you could then use to make grilled cheese sandwiches), a delicious crock pot cake. It also has some ideas that I think she includes more to tell a story about her friends and family, not quite as a recipe you should be following. Most notably, how to melt bleu cheese on pretzels. Unless you, the reader, needs a recipe for that. Then, she includes a really really great recipe about how to melt bleu cheese on pretzels! If you’re ok with the random “wait…what?” recipe, then I’d recommend it.

To Squidge: a verb that means…something

The Pretty Ones

The Pretty Ones


Today I am making the very British Jamie Oliver’s baked beans. I originally saw this recipe on his instagram, an account that inspires frequent and often feelings of “my breakfast never looks like that”, (sighs wistfully), “my life has been totally absent of burgers that look like that!”, and “WHO KNEW CHEESE COULD DO THAT!” I finally decided to try my hand at one of these recipes, and I didn’t get very far before I realized I might have been slightly out of my depth and also very American.

First: the metric system. My whole life I have been tangentially aware of how crazy it is that America doesn’t use the metric system. “Yeah…it’s better, butwhatcanyoudo? Get me my measuring cups! USA! USA!” It wasn’t until I was crouched down in the grocery aisle trying to crunch the numbers from mL to ounces that I decided yes, it is slightly twisted that we are still gallavanting, laughing in the face of the milliliter, the gram, and the meter. Ultimately, I decided, “It’s baked beans! I’m sure everything will be mostly fine.” Commence the guessing! Next ingredient: Passata. What is Jamie’s almighty grocery store is passata?! Oh…I have a phone. To Google! (This is when I realize that I could Google metric unit conversions, but let’s face it those ingredients are already in my cart. You don’t come back from that.) So, passata is basically tomato puree. I can handle that.

Two tins of beans. It is surprising how benign a word as “tin” can throw such a wrench into this obviously flawless culinary machine. Inner monologue: “Is a tin the same thing as a can? I thought tins were those things anchovies come in…or maybe like…fancy oatmeal. That seems right, but none of these bean cans look like fancy oatmeal containers. Maybe tin is just British for can. That’s probably mostly right. Yeah.”

Red Chile. I tell you, the logic of my inner monologue is pretty irrefutable, guys: “Red chile. I’ve never bought a red chile, have I? This’ll be fun. Ok…chiles. None are red. Oh wait that one! (accidentally cuts off old woman with my crazed leap towards what I would discover is a red pepper.) Maybe I’ll just get a jalapeño. That’ll work. Wait…poblanos sure sound fancy.” And that’s how I ended up with three poblano peppers. You know, for fanciness.

Once I got all my ingredients in the cart and out the door the actual cooking was pretty straightforward. Though I will call out Jamie Oliver for instructions like the following: “place in the oven for one hour or until bubbling, baked, and gorgeous.” But, Jamie, as someone who also believes a bowl full of flaming hot cheetoes is pretty gorgeous, I’m pretty sure my gorgeous-gage is off! Lo and behold, after an hour…yes, they did look pretty. I’ll give you this one, Oliver.

However, squidge, while evocative, is not a verb I can get behind, guy. The exact quote: “…tear up or squidge open the potatoes.” Squidge. I can see it, kind of a toothpaste tube-y mix of squeeze and….idging? No. I don’t see it. ESPECIALLY when I try to “squidge” open those potatoes they kind of got everywhere, because, you see, a sweet potato skin is not a toothpaste tube. It doesn’t take kindly to squidging, or even squeezing. Or idging for that matter.

FullSizeRender (1)

Irrational pouting aside, I really like the recipe. I didn’t make the croutons because A) I’m trying to cut out bread a little bit, and B) I forgot to get loaf of bread to crouton-ize* (too distracted by figuring out what a tin is), but put some plain greek yogurt on the side and some greens, and you’ve got yourself a pretty hearty meal. Also, the leftovers taste better than fresh out of the oven. You know, flavors have squidged together. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I used that correctly.

Verdict: Once you figure out the compatibility levels between the metric system and your local grocery store, and master your squidging skills this recipe is awesome and makes great leftovers.

*I can make verbs too, man!