“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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Justice Pesto: When Pesto-Hipsters get too Big for their Skinny-Britches

When I moved to Wisconsin, it was still Winter and this thing called the Polar Vortex was still very much a concern.

For those unfamiliar with the Polar Vortex, all you need to know is it was crazy cold, and some meteorologists gave it a cool name so people wouldn’t be so sad about how crazy cold it was.

For years later, Wisconsinites could say to newcomers, “you think this is bad? In 2014 we survived a Polar Vortex.

It was not what I would call the finest chapter of my life. It hurt to go outside, and one doesn’t realize how much a person needs fresh air until you are robbed of it.

I, of course, thought it was my civic duty to tell everyone how much it hurt to go outside- a foolproof way to make friends in a new state is definitely complain a lot!- but because Wisconsin people are pretty much the nicest people, they tried to make me feel better about the seasons that were coming, instead of roll their eyes and walk away. Which I couldn’t blame them for doing if they had.

One of the main arguments people made for enduring Winter and staying for Spring was the Farmer’s Market.

Now I’d been to Farmer’s Markets before, both in my home state of North Carolina and during my two years living in New York. So what was so special about this one, guys? If we’re judging by the markets of my past, they’re mostly crowded and expensive and it’s cheaper and easier to go to the grocery store.

What’s so special about this Market that I would forgive Wisconsin for this wintry torment? 

My three-year report: The produce is reasonably priced. If you get there early enough the crowds are kind of fine. The flower vendors don’t judge me too harshly for Instagramming their merchandise (I buy stuff. It’s fine). And there’s cheese. Lots and lots of cheese. Personally, I think it’s worth the hype.


For you see, I was wronged this week. Farmers’ Market betrayal!

And I think if we’re ranking betrayal, Farmers’ Market betrayal is pretty high up there. After drug store betrayal, but before pizza delivery betrayal.

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Ramp It Up: The World’s Greenest Soup

I got to go to my first farmer’s market of the year yesterday. I crawled out of bed, and got there early because if you arrive after 9:00, you get caught in the ambling zombie shuffle of people who think that their cheese curd samples are more important than my cheese curd samples, and I think we all know, that’s just crazy talk.

The downside of getting their early, and avoiding cheese curd related murder, is it was freezing.

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You Butter Believe It: Butter, Scones, and Winter

I’m really bad at winter. Really bad.

I don’t like going outside, but don’t want to stay inside. Coats are stupid. Ice is stupid. My socks are in perpetual need of repair. Not to be inflammatory or anything, but I just don’t think winter is very good at all. It could be better. Maybe it needs some hobbies.

Mostly-real thought: “I should get some exercise! I don’t want to exercise in my apartment though , but if I go outside, I’ll slip on the ice and get a head injury and that will ruin my sparkling no-head-injury streak. I probably just shouldn’t exercise.”

I’m just not very good at winter. Logic breaks down, my spirit hot on its tails. The good news is the internet offers a lot of remedies to make winter not quite so stifling (Lamps! Lamps made of crystal! Other lamps!). Because I’m evidently not so good at winter, and subsequently, not so good at winter remedies, I mostly tried my own things.

And if there’s one thing I can tell you, it’s how not to battle seasonal affective disorder. The following methods do not work:

  • Pacing your apartment mumbling the words to “Let it Go” while weeping
  • Staring directly into the sun while scream-singing “Happy” by Pharrell
  • Crush three entire bottles of Nature’s Own Vitamin D pills and mix it into hot chocolate that you drink while reading a biography about Dick Van Dyke
  • Wear seven sweaters simultaneously, and yelling  Sweater weather! Sweater weather!”
  • High-fiving snowmen

Winter is hard, and when winter saps me of all motivation and energy, the 10 percent of my brain that I call “adult Meredith” has to play activity director for the other 90 percent, and those activities most often comes down to cooking.

And lucky me, between Christmas, Christmas money, and stealing cookbooks from my family’s home (they weren’t using them!), I came back to Wisconsin Winter armed with four new cookbooks.

I’ve had the cookbook Milk Bar Life for awhile, and it is very well-loved. It is a collection family recipes, both biological and work, and New York favorites recreated by author Christina Tosi.

The back cover of my Milk Bar Life. And yes. I cooked it. That’s a thing I did.

One of the new additions to my cookbook collection is Tosi’s original publication Milk Bar, the recipes from the Momofuku Milk Bar (a favorite of mine while at school). These recipes look amazing. She includes the classics for which the bar is best known, cereal milk ice cream, crack pie, cake truffles, etc., while also including some close cousins of those recipes so you can vary your menu at home.

They also look a little expensive for people who splurged on her Middle Eastern themed dinners last week. (I mostly just had to keep buying flour because I kept messing up the pita. I also ended up using an entire bottle of olive oil. I don’t think I was supposed to use that much olive oil.) They probably don’t look that expensive for normals.

Flipping through the cookbook today, I was looking for a recipe that 1) looked like I wouldn’t mess it up and 2) looked like I already had most of the ingredients, and sadly but also very appropriately given my southern heritage, I settled down on her recipe for mustard butter.

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Recipe Review: Ovenly’s Stumptown “But I don’t want to” Shorty

Tonight at roughly 6:30, I got the classic “Tomorrow is Monday” stomachache.

The pit in your stomach, knowing that tomorrow you have to pull yourself up, wear clothes that aren’t sweatpants, and do things that aren’t first, second, or third on your list of fun things for at least ten hours. And then repeat that four more times.

Make no mistake, she just finished openly wailing.

When you experience the “Tomorrow is Monday” stomachache, you have a couple options on how to tackle it:

  1. Openly wail until you get to your office the next morning.
  2. Realize that having a job is just part of growing up, and accept the fact that pouting won’t help or change anything.
  3. Fake your death. Go on the run.

Considering my neighbors that have expressly asked me to cut it with the open wailing, my refusal to believe that pouting won’t eventually do something, and being out of fake blood, I had to figure out option 4.

I went with the always healthy method, distraction. I decided to make the “I just cleaned my kitchen, so I’m not burning sugar, but there’s no time that’s a bad time for shortbread” version of Ovenly’s Stumptown Shorty.

Who can be sad about Monday when you could bake instead? Yes, you’ll only postpone the weeping by an hour, but you can weep into your baked goods.

The regular recipe calls for tiny burnt sugar bits mixed into your dough. Having made this recipe once before, the caramelized sugar adds a nice flavor/texture combo, but like I as the title of my recipe says, I just cleaned my kitchen. I’m not burning sugar. Sorry, team! No house-fire-potential this time!

The thing I always forget about shortbread is, at its essence, it’s flour, sugar, and butter. That’s a hard sell in the health department, but as I was kerplomping (the actual sound a stick of butter makes when it lands on other butter) THREE sticks of butter into a mixing bowl, I was a little horrified.

The building blocks: (You could follow the ingredients included in the previous link, OR you could follow these. Ingredients for normals, I say.)

  • 3 sticks of unsweetened butter, plus some other butter for greasing the pan
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar Basically a cup of confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cold-brew coffee (We’ll learn soon that “cold” is up for debate)
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons very finely ground espresso  half a cup of coarsely ground coffee that you already have in your kitchen

Yes, I sure did avoid messing up my clean kitchen.

What should have happened…

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix together the sugar and the butter. Keep an ear out for the aforementioned kerplomping.
  3. Slowly mix in the cold brew to the butter mixture
  4. Whisk together the flour and the ground basically-espresso
  5. Mix in half of the flour mixture until incorporated. Mix in the other half.
  6. Spread the dough on a greased baking sheet.

What happened…

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (YES! DONE!)
  • Mix together the sugar and the butter. (Kerplomped as promised!)
  • Realize that you haven’t made the cold brew, so you throw some coffee grounds and water into your french press. Don’t check the ratios! That’s for squares! Put the french press in the refrigerator, and decide that it will be cold enough by the time you whisk together the flour and the ground coffee. (Yes. This is fine.)
  • Whisk together the flour and the ground coffee. (DONE! I AM GREAT AT THINGS!)

I’m just really great at baking.

  • The cold brew isn’t ready. You then make space in the freezer, and decide the time it takes to grease the pan will allow it to get cold enough. (I crunched the numbers. It pans out.)
  • Grease a baking sheet to use once the dough is ready.
  • The cold brew still isn’t ready. It’s actually still hot. It’s hot brew. I have hot brew coffee. (Basically the same as cold brew. As Paul Abdul says, “Opposite attract are the same.)
  • I decide to just go for it, and add the hot brew to the butter mixture. (Nope. Nope. This is not fine.)
  • Watch as the butter mixture loses all structural integrity, and say to yourself, “this will be fine.” (I wonder if I should worry about how easily I lie to myself.)
  • Throw the flour mixture in there before you actually have to look at the disaster your butter has turned in to. (This fixes everything!)
  • Slowly mix the flour and butter mixtures.
  • Once mixed, spread evenly over the baking sheet. (This actually looks pretty good.)

And that, my friends, is the designated spot for the snowman spatula.

  • Scrape the batter back into the mixing bowl so you can work in the extra, while also not at all extra, but in fact very required flour.
  • Spread dough over baking sheet. You’re really good at it from that other time where you go to practice.
  • 16. Pop it in the oven!

It couldn’t be easier!

Review: Even my cliff-notes version of this recipe is really very tasty. It’s a nice dessert or an afternoon snack. With my last batch, I crumbled it and served it on ice cream.

I do kind of miss the burnt sugar, but isn’t that a tale as old as time? Made coffee shortbread to distract myself from having to go back to work, but because I don’t want to dirty more dishes, I didn’t burn the sugar for the recipe and now I regret it. If I only had a nickel….

Bonus: If we’re being honest with ourselves, my blog is 80% driven by recipes that go wrong. Earlier today I made what might be the prettiest thing my kitchen has ever seen.

Most food bloggers take beautiful pictures that can be easily pinterested (pinned? I don’t know. At 28 I’m almost 75). As a more nebulous blogger, I like to think I bring an extra element of dirty stove and trying my best to the table.

If you need any dinner ideas, may I recommend one pot lemon chicken and rice?

  1. It tastes fancy.
  2. It looks fancy.
  3. You can cook it in one pot.
  4. When you’re working with these ingredients, the recipe is yours to ruin.

These are beautiful things.


Cold Hands, Burnt Sugar, and Trying Hard: Making Ice Cream without an Ice Cream Maker

I, like most people, have been watching the Olympics a lot lately.

And let’s be real. I don’t have cable, so “watching the Olympics” translates into:

  1. Watching YouTube videos on my phone the morning after an event in that time before I get out of bed for work, but before I start the negotiation process on just how long I can wait before Iactually going to be late, while also remembering, not going to work means I can’t pay the bills or pay for celebrity memoirs.
  2. Deciphering people’s cryptic Facebook statuses they post while watching the events on the actual television, and I’m watching The Mindy Project dvds. Statuses like: “Woah, France! Crazy twist!” or “What a nail biter!”

But, all in all, it definitely translates into “watching the Olympics.” And, my thoughts usually and quite incorrectly boil down to, “I could probably do that if I tried hard.” And then I decide it’s time to get dressed, so I get up and sit in front of my closet, because the change of location means I’m trying. Not hard, per se.

The truth is, I wore heels today, and they made walking up stairs feel like I was ascending Mount Doom. I didn’t have a ring or a buddy named Sam, but I was trying hard and no one was giving me any gold medals.

I think there might be more to this “Olympian” thing.

And in definitely unrelated news, I really like ice cream.

I don’t eat it all the time because in a twist on the mullet, I’m party in the front, and much less fun party in the “back,”- because of the Crohn’s Disease– but it’s a nice treat every once in awhile.

And when you spot churro ice cream in the grocery store, it gets the cravings up and running, and when you spot the ten dollar price tag for a pint, it also gets the indignation up and running and you walk away determined to make your own.

Now, I live in a studio, and I barely have kitchen space for a second pan. Because of that, it should come as no surprise that I don’t own an ice cream maker. I do, however, own plastic sandwich bags, one ice-tray, and salt.

For those who haven’t heard of the plastic bag method for making ice cream, the idea is you mix the ice cream ingredients in a small bag, and put it into a larger bag with ice and salt. The salt cools the ice and freezes the ice cream. And you, meanwhile- I’m going to use a Kenji word- are agitating the bag to keep ice crystals from forming.

Let’s make science happen.

Based on my last adventures with churros, I decided to go in a different direction in terms of ice cream flavor. The fear is real.

This time I’m going to burn sugar! Nothing will go wrong with that!

I found this recipe on Epicurious.com for burnt sugar ice cream, and two days in advance, started Operation Thrice Cube Ice Cube. (Because you want three times as many ice cubes as you currently have! I’m very good at operation names.) And by Sunday, I had enough ice! Mission accomplished!

The next step is Operation Colonel Custard’s First Scoop. 

There are moments in my life where I think, “you should have seen this coming.” Stirring bubbling custard to try and keep it from bubbling with one hand, shaking a saucepan with the other hand to keep the burnt sugar from…burning? Taking quick ten second breaks to quickly shove spoonfuls of dinner into my mouth, and jumping back to pan juggling immediately after, while gazing over my shoulder at the recipe to see how much longer I had to keep it moving was one of them.

This recipe requires 4 arms, and I do not have 4 arms. I have 2 arms. The custard seemed fine anyway? And then I turn around and I see an unopened bottle of whole milk on my counter.

I finish the custard only to realize I absolutely did not finish the custard.

Everyone says “baking is a science,” when telling you how you need to be exact and do things in a certain order. Follow the recipe! They probably don’t tell you, “dump in the milk and see what happens.”

Well, I dumped in the milk, and saw what happened. Seemed fine? Works for me! Mission accomplished!

Meanwhile in Operation Sugar-Burning, not burning anything down!

So, as you’re swirling the water and sugar together, you’re supposed to look for a deep mahogany color.

pre-burnt burnt sugar.

Suddenly, with one arm stirring custard, one arm swirling hot sugar water, I have no recollection of what mahogany looks like.

Brown? Dark brown? Red-y brown? More hogany as opposed to less hogany?

Google images has a hard time with it too.

When the sugar turns a shade that I like to call “Dark Brown Adjacent”, I removed it from heat.

Now that the sugar is good and probably-burnt, we can combine them. Mission accomplished!

Once combined, you let the custard cool. And once cooled, you put it in a ziplock bag. At this point I was starting to grow dubious of ziplock-bag-method. Most websites that explain how to do it are pretty specific about the ice cream base. Most websites that explain how to do it do not include burnt sugar. Mostly, they just talk about vanilla.

That’s when I track down method #2. David Lebovitz instructs you in the best method of avoiding ice crystals while not having to keep your ice cream in constant motion. You basically stir it every half hour.

Not sure which one to carry out, I decide to do both. One was astoundingly more successful than the other.

Method #1: I bagged the ice and the salt. I bagged the half the custard. I bagged the custard inside the bag with the ice and the salt and got to shaking.

The website informed me that I would have ice cream in 5 to 8 minutes. 5 to 8 minutes later, I did not have ice cream. 15 to 18 minutes later, I still did not have ice cream. My hands, however, have never been colder.

I was shaking for so long, unable to do the other chores I usually reserve for Sundays, that I put my ice cream bag in my hot pink Jansport backpack and danced and shook as I folded laundry, prepped my dinners for the week, and scrubbed the dishes. You know, like adults do.

An hour after the process started, I check on the bag and I start to see progress. At this point I was looking at a milkshake more than soup, but still not ice cream.

Method #2: I put the other half of the custard in a container. Plopped it in the freezer, and set the timer for 30 minutes. At 30 minutes, stir it around to break up any ice crystals, and set the timer again. Repeat as needed! I went through two cycles of stirring before I decided that ice crystals aren’t so bad.

I was tired from the shaking, guys. It was my bed time. As a matter of fact, I took the method #1 milkshake, and stuck it in the freezer too. I can’t help but think Michael Phelps would have done the same. I bet he gets sleepy too.

The next day, I finally got to try it.

The recipe itself was very rich, and you couldn’t quite taste the burnt sugar. The texture was smooth though, and paired with strawberries, was pretty good.

If you all ever feel like trying to make your own, I would definitely go with the David Lebovitz method, method #2.

If you’re in the mood for science and cold hands and trying hard, get yourself some ziplock bags and go with method #1. As a warning, no one will give you a gold medal for it.

They might give you a towel, though. Ice melts.

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.