Friday, April 03, 2020

Cocktail Hour: A New Old Fashioned

Why is it that lately I either have a photo or something to say, but never both?

The best place to see what I've been up to is to check out my wonderfully low-quality Instagram feed. Lately, it's being updated nearly daily! One of my friends commented that she likes my photos, but that I don't write what's in them... but I do! Usually...

Anyway, back to story time:

In this age of social distancing and #stayhome, my parents have turned to digital happy hours, and on Monday, I thought they asked me if the boyfriend and I would be free on Thursday evening to join them and some friends for one. I'm pretty sure I gave a noncommittal answer, something like "I will be, but he may or may not be around, and if he's around, he may not be able to drink." Fast forward to Thursday. Around 4:45 pm, I realize it's Thursday, and that I still haven't received a Zoom invite from my father. I shoot him a text asking about it and decide I'll use this as an excuse to shower, actually put some makeup on, and wear jewelry, things I haven't done in weeks. Well, I've showered, just not the other stuff.

I get out of the shower and still haven't heard back, so I text my mom, and then go about making my cocktail.

It turns out there was never going to be a cocktail party tonight and I just imagined it.

A New Old Fashioned
makes 1

1.5 oz whiskey (I used TX blended whiskey)
3-4 dashes orange bitters
.5 oz rosewater simple syrup

Place a large ice cube in a glass. Add ingredients and stir.
Stare at wall and consider garnishes, but slip on heels instead, grab a book, and head outside to contemplate being digitally stood up by your parents.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Slow Cooker Try #2

I just made a recipe in a slow cooker for the second time ever -- I picked it because it was super simple and would make for a nourishing meal that would keep me from eating all of the cookies I was planning on making for Christmas.

But when I tried to make it on Thursday, I couldn't get the jar of salsa verde open (Trader Joe's, you've failed me) and resorted to a frozen vegetarian pad thai I'd picked up on sale at HEB. (Review: Not bad, would buy again, especially for $1.91.)

But what I did learn today from this recipe is that if I were to make it again, I'd make a few tweaks to it: half a dozen garlic cloves, a teaspoon or so of dried oregano (or a few fresh sprigs), and maybe even an onion. Or, perhaps, I just need to get a nice dutch oven and forget about slow cookers so I can toast the aromatics first. Or maybe I need to use a different salsa verde, one with more of a punch and not a boring, basic one.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

It's been a while. And I'm posting without photos, since I may have forgotten to take any of the cake I made yesterday. I feel like such a letdown to myself. However, I feel like I need to thank my friend, because when I asked her what kind of cake she would like for her birthday, she gave me a specific answer: pink lemonade cake.

And because of that, I came across the most DELICIOUS Lemon Cream Cheese frosting. I didn't believe it until I tried it, and well, now I'm sold and want even more excuses to make it. And also to perfect my ability to slice cake layers.

The best part: I didn't need a stand mixer, though my hand mixer was wheezing for a while.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

New Home, New Beginnings

Hey world, it's been a while.

I'd like to say I didn't stop cooking and having fun in the kitchen, but that might not be entirely true. I kicked off 2016 by doing a Whole30 and while it didn't help me with what I was hoping it would, it did remind me of my love of cooking. All it took was some gentle nudging, perhaps accidentally, from a new acquaintance that resulted in a late night impulse purchase and HERE I AM!

But not only does Just My Dinner have a new home, I do too! I've been pretty unsettled since 2009, but no more! Now that I'm armed with a surprisingly large kitchen in a not-so-nice apartment (hey, we're in our twenties!) I've finally unpacked my boxes and boxes of bakeware. Between that, my roommate's stainless steel cookware set, and my box of mismatched of dishes, I'm ready to tackle the world of the kitchen again! (And dig out my dusty 7D.)

Inspiration comes from surprising places. And I'm feeling inspired.

That being said, I'm running on a week of very little sleep. Armed with a fridge full of green vegetables, eggs, bacon, hot sauce, and a bizarre array of spices, I tackled breakfast this morning. I fried up some bacon, drained most of the grease, sauteed some thinly sliced brussels sprouts in that with a bit of salt and pepper, threw it on my plate, fried up an egg, and then topped it all with a few slices of avocado.

Easy, delicious, and I'm not sure if I'll ever get the smell of bacon grease out of my clothing since all the kitchen smells go straight into my room.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"He puts sriracha on everything. ERRYTHING"

My travels around the globe have ended and I'm back to spending my time in Chicago.

This means a return to normalcy. My time in Tehran was fairly normal, but I never did quite master my way around the kitchen. For starters, I never mastered using a dull paring knife for everything or a lack of scales and measuring spoons.

Actually, I was just pretty lazy. There really isn't an excuse.

But now I'm back! I don't have my aunt doting over me anymore, which means my natural instinct to please people through their taste buds has returned! (That, and my belief that sweets are very much the bottom of the food pyramid. Actually, I'm not so sure that ever disappeared - they just weren't homemade for a while.)

So I've been busy in the kitchen. Not super busy, and not with my camera in hand. I haven't even pulled it out since getting back to Chicago, and that's really not acceptable. But I've made a couple of batches of berry brownies, started to test out a bourbon-bacon ice cream (but never quite made it to the ice cream part), bourbon-bacon-chocolate cupcakes for my birthday, and then, finally, today's recipe: sriracha chocolate chip cookies.

There are people out there that swear by sriracha. It's their go to condiment. Their hot sauce of choice. I am not one of those people. In fact, I bought my first bottle of sriracha specifically to make this recipe to make these cookies for one of those people.

If you're looking for a spicy cookie, this one isn't it. I've made cookies packing a bit more heat before. These are not those.

These are classic. Your basic, chewy chocolate chip cookie. They're almost the Toll House Recipe, but not quite. But when you eat them, there's something just the slightest bit different about them. It's a bit difficult to put your finger on what it is.

Oh, yeah. It's the sriracha.

Sriracha Chocolate Chip Cookies
makes a couple of dozen or something

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons sriracha sauce
11 ounces dark chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 375F.

Beat butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together in a medium bowl until smooth and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time.

In a small bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking soda. Beat into butter mixture until combined.

Stir in sriracha and chocolate chunks.

Plop spoonfuls of dough on an ungreased baking sheet 2 inches apart. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until golden brown.

Let cool enough that you won't burn your mouth and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Citrus Bars

I've been using tasty treats as a way to leave an impression on people for 6 or so years now. In high school, I baked when I was stressed or bored or just wanted something productive to do, which lead to my fellow yearbook staff members remembering for my cookies. My freshman year of college, I was known as the floor baker, and even made a Facebook group to notify the people on my floor whenever I made something new that I wanted to share. However, moving off campus and having my own kitchen (well, an apartment three of us shared with a kitchen) somehow meant the end of baking for me, and the oven saw more casseroles and frozen fries than scratch made treats. During my senior toast, I ran into someone I hadn't spoken to since that first year in the dorms, and he asked me if I was still baking delicious treats. I was ashamed to say it'd been a while.

However, recently, that's changed. In the past two weeks, I've baked more than I had in the previous year. Finding inspiration from Keri, I made a chocolate cake for my aunt's birthday, followed by a rosewater cheesecake while visiting my grandparents.

But then, my aunt and I came back after our visit up north and the reality of kind-of-sort-of moving to Tehran began to set in. I can count the number of people close to my age that I know without raising a single finger. Sure, I've met people the numerous times I've visited, but most of the time I'm terrible with names and only okay with faces. Plus, even if I did remember anyone, it's been seven years since I'd spent any significant amount of time in this city. Of course, the only reasonable solution to this "finding friends" thing was for my aunt to throw me a party, a small get together of sorts. With 20 people. So, while my aunt planned the menu, I asked how I could help, and then realized the only reasonable thing to do would be to make some sort of tasty treats. So I did - citrus bars and rosewater cupcakes. And then I washed up nicely, did my make-up ("You should put some blush on." "I am wearing blush."), pulled on a dress, slipped on some heels, and then did my best to not seem too awkward or shy.

Which, when bombarded with 15 new names and faces, can be a bit difficult. And, of course, everyone knows my name. And that I'm the American niece. And, by the end of it, that I'm quiet and shy. At least, I hope that's what they thought and not that I was rude and stuck up. But from their comments, what I am sure of is that they think I make awesome citrus bars. So, I'd say I'm back on track for winning people over with sweets.

Not that I can even take credit for the deliciousness, really, since the recipe for Grape Fruit Bars was delivered to my e-mail from the ever-wonderful Keri with the note "I'm giving you this because the citrus fruit can easily be switched out... my lab says this is their favourite and I got so many e-mails asking for the recipe." So, without further ado (though I suppose that's what scrolling is for), here they are.

Citrus Bars
Recipe from Keri
Makes 36 triangles

For crust:
2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
250 g butter, room temperature

4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup fresh citrus fruit of choice
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup flour  

Preheat oven to 350F/175C/Gas 4 and line a 9x13 pan with baking paper.

Combine flour,  icing sugar, and butter and mix with a fork or hands until it becomes a thick, crumbly dough. Press dough into the prepared pan so it's even across the bottom. Bake for 20 minutes, or until just golden around the edges. (If pan is dark, check sooner or bake at lower temperature.)

While the base cooks, whisk together eggs, sugar, and juice until smooth.  Then whisk in baking powder, making sure no lumps remain. Finally, whisk in flour.

Pour the egg mixture onto the base. Return to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes or the filling no longer jiggles and is dry to the touch. 

Once cooled, remove from pan, use a sharp knife and cut into pieces of desired size. 

If you're planning on serving them the next day, the paranoid food safety person in me suggests keeping them in the fridge and letting them return to room temperature before eating.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Floral Cheesecake

My friend Keri has been chronicling her adventures in baking over at Like most websites, I don't have ready access to it, and after hearing about her rose and coconut cheesecake from her flatmate, and my grandfather teasing me to make something else after making a coconut and chocolate cake for my aunt's birthday (recipe also courtesy of Keri), I figured I'd asked her for the recipe and give it a try. 

And then couldn't find half the things necessary. However, I didn't actually look very hard for them. But I made some substitutions (visible below) and ended up with a tasty cheesecake. It definitely didn't turn out as pretty as Keri's, and may or may not have been as heavenly, but it's definitely simple enough and tasty enough to garner making again. 

I also used just a bowl, wooden spoon, and whisk to make this and found that to be fine, but I left Keri's directions for beating the cheese in place. 

Rose and Coconut Cheese Cake

Base Ingredients 
- 220 g biscuits (I used coconut ones)
- 50 g shredded coconut
- 100 g butter, melted

1) Break up biscuits somehow. Either use the double baggied and rolling pin method, or, my preferred method: a deep bowl and a meat mallet.
2) Mix  coconut and melted butter into biscuit crumbs. 
3) Press into bottom and 3 cm up sides of a greased 23 cm spring pan. Leave in the fridge for 30 minutes
to set.

Filling Ingredients 
- 500 g cream cheese
- 200 ml coconut milk (from a can)
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 2 eggs
- 3 Tablespoons rosewater (adjust to taste)

1) Preheat the oven to 170 C (325 F). 
2) Beat the cream cheese with an electric
beater. Add the coconut milk in two lots of 100 ml and beat
well to get rid of any lumps. Best in the sugar, followed by the eggs one at a time. 
Stir in the rosewater. 
3) Pour filling mixture into prepared base. Bake for 45 minutes at 325F, or until it isn't jiggly. After which, turn off the oven and leave cake in for an additional hour.
4) Let cheesecake cool on the counter for 30
minutes or until it's cool enough to place in fridge. Chill 4 hour or overnight.
5) Run knife around edge before releasing from pan. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

One Week

Three Piece Dinner

I have one week left before embarking on the next phase of my life, whatever that may be. For the first time in my life, I won't be an official student, and that kind of terrifies me.

However, one of the things I've discovered is that I sometimes super simple meals are also super delicious. And perhaps this meal wasn't super simple, considering my dad cooked the eggplant for me, froze them, and kindly sent them with me to St. Louis after one of my visits home. But thawed eggplant, some sauteed onions, garlic curry sauce, and rice make for a tasty dinner. And a really easy one, too.

Also, as embarrassing as this is to admit, especially considering my ethnic background, I've only successfully cooked rice by myself on a handful of occasions. Usually I find myself consulting someone as I put the rice on, or not managing a nice tadig. When I made rice for this meal, not only was it actually cooked, there was a nice crunchy tadig as well!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I'm one month away from being a college graduate. One month. The prospect of being a college graduate is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. At the moment though, it's mostly just terrifying.

I've been receiving a formal education for as long as I can remember, unless you discount daycare and preschool. Starting in a month when someone asks me what I do, the answer will no longer have the simple answer I've been providing since I was old enough to garner the question: I'm a student.

AS long as I'm alive, that should be an acceptable response, but that's not how people usually look at it. For the past four years, it's been the expected answer. I've been the simplest, easiest to understand dictionary definition of it. Proof? The second entry in the Oxford English Dictionary applied perfectly to me:

Student: A person who is undergoing a course of study and instruction at a university or other place of higher education or technical training.
While it's true I'll no longer be undergoing a formal course of education, I don't think I'll ever stop being a student. Because the first entry in the O.E.D. seems to describe what I aspire to be, well, forever.
Student: A person who is engaged in or addicted to study.
Study: To apply the mind to the acquisition of learning, whether by means of books, observation, or experiment

I never want to stop learning. Ever. If I'm out there existing and I'm not applying myself to learning new things on a daily basis, then I'm failing myself.

When it comes to formal education, on paper, I've been incredibly fortunate. Though I don't think college rankings tell you all that much about the quality of education an individual person receives -- you can go to a "great" school and get a terrible education if you try hard enough, or, more accurately, don't try -- my degree is from a top tier university. If I pick up my diploma, head back to Chicago, and stop learning I'm not going to get anything out of my life. I'm smart enough to know that I'll spend the rest of my life learning new things. And I look forward to that.

Now that I've said that, I present to you a list of things I've learned about the kitchen while in school. Many of these things aren't transferable to other people.
  • I was spoiled with nice, heavy knives as a child. I can't function without a chef's knife that is too light or too dull.
  • All I need to be satisfied is a skillet, a spatula, oil, and (fresh-ish) eggs. Salt and pepper are nice. Vegetables are even nicer. Salsa is easier.
  • Drying racks are incredibly useful, as are dishgloves.
  • Canned (packeted?) tuna is a wonderful thing.
  • It's really easy to lose things in a fridge shared with someone who doesn't regularly clean their stuff out.
  • Buying groceries for one can be difficult. The deli counter is a valuable resource.
  • Condiments do in fact go bad.
I feel like most of that is actually pretty obvious, except for maybe the first two, which are really just things I learned about myself. (I don't do conclusions well.)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

It Feels Like a Perfect Night for Breakfast at Midnight

I'm a pretty big Taylor Swift fan. I remember being fascinated by the adorable girl with the curls singing "Our Song" when my friend showed me the video and then hearing off key versions of "Love Story" far too frequently coming from the boy who sat next to me in Number Theory. Then, the first friend I made in college had a penchant for randomly bursting into "You Belong With Me," regardless of if it was a socially acceptable time.

So when Taylor Swift released Red last October, it was pretty much perfect timing. About twenty minutes into the record is the wonderfully ridiculous ode to being a "happy, free, confused, and lonely" pop star and, well, being 22.

And, well, most of my friends are slowly turning 22. And I now have an excuse to play Taylor Swift songs under the pretense than it's appropriate for the occasion.

And, while this wasn't the inspiration for at all, and definitely not my first time eating breakfast at midnight, when I realized that we were celebrating my friend's birthday with a midnight breakfast, I couldn't help but think of the song.

Bourbon Pecan Sauce
similar to version I made before adapted from Dec. 2006 Cooking Light, pg 174
makes 1 - 1 1/2 cups

1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon bourbon
Combine sugars and water in a small saucepan over medium high-heat, stirring constantly until sugars dissolve and it no longer looks grainy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Lower heat to a medium-low and cook until mixture is bubbly and thickened, about 5 minutes.

It's really tasty with fluffy dollar sized pancakes, freshly whipped cream, and bananas.