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I love pizza but I hate tomatoes.

It’s a pizza paradox.

pizza-3-pizza

Pizza, delicious pizza.

Yes, yes, I know there are white pizzas and green pizzas – and I do love me some pesto, don’t get me wrong – but my True Love is traditional pizza with red sauce. I like it not only as a pizza base layer upon which all other toppings rest, but also as a dipping sauce for my fully-cooked pizza.

But. The sauce must be completely smooth. COMPLETELY. SMOOTH.

If I get a single tomato seed in my teeth, the entire pizza-eating experience is RUINED.

So my pizza preference is to make my own. And I have perfected my pizza-making methods, including my pizza sauce. And now, dear internet, I share it with you. You know, if you care about smooth sauce.

For the tomato lovers out there: my husband could eat chopped up tomatoes (HORK) on his pizza and still enjoy himself, and he also enjoys my sauce.

First you get your ingredients.

My favorite pizza has mozzarella, pepperoni, and mushrooms. Sometimes I throw on some sliced onions or green peppers, if I’m feeling fancy.

So, you know, assemble whatever you like to throw on your own pizza.

Then you’ve got to make your crust.

I don’t care to make my own dough, so I buy it pre-made. My local grocery store carries a brand called Papa Sals that I really love. I’ve compared it against the pizza dough that my local Italian bakery sells, and it’s got everything I like: it makes a nice crisp crust with a good chew and a nice mild flavor. It’s very easy to knead into a pizza shape. And, most importantly, it last a LONG time. I tend to make little pizzas for lunch, using an eighth of a crust per pizza, and the dough lasts an entire week. (And what dough I have leftover, I roll up in baking-spray sprayed cling wrap and freeze.)

pizza-1-dough

Papa Sal’s, best pre-made pizza dough on earth. Or at least best available in my local grocery store.

(Disclaimer-y deviation from the post at hand: I was in line at the grocery store once, buying my Papa Sal’s dough, when a fellow shopper asked me how long it lasted. I told her a week and the grocery store checker frowned and said, “Oh, I wouldn’t do that” as though I was suggesting the woman lick the inside of a trash can lid or something. And to be fair, I am no food scientist. And also the dough does get limp and weepy at some point. So I guess even though I have eaten week-old dough and I am still here, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing it yourself.)

Getting back to the sauce.

It’s the easiest recipe ever. Takes 10 minutes, tops.

There are four, maybe five ingredients:

pizza-5-ingredients

You have no idea how much money I spend on Penzey’s and Hunt’s every year. So. Good.

  • Hunt’s tomato sauce: I usually get two of the 8 oz cans because my grocery store doesn’t carry the larger size in the low-salt variety. Why low-salt? Well, I prefer it anyway, but also the seasoning for the sauce has salt in it.

 

  • Water: I fill up each tomato sauce can about halfway with water and swirl it around. So let’s say 8 oz of water to be specific about it.

 

  • Penzey’s pizza seasoning: This is a combo of fennel and oregano and basil and other things that combine into sweet sweet pizza goodness.

 

  • Sugar: I put in maybe a teaspoon? I’d err on the side of less sugar. I have over-sugared my pizza sauce before and it is Not Pleasant.

 

  • Cayenne pepper: totally optional, but if you like spice, it adds a really nice extra heat to your pizza.

Combine all these ingredients in a sauce pan. Bring it to a simmer. I turn it to medium and then go collect my pizza ingredients and usually by the time I’ve peeled and washed a mushroom or two, the sauce is beginning to bubble. Then turn it down and let it gently simmer for about five minutes, just long enough so that the sauce is warmed through. Seriously. That’s it.

pizza-7-sauce

This is the sauce in a pot as I am stirring in the seasonings. That odd silver pole in the middle is the handle of a spoon. What? I never purported to be a photographer.

You might want to taste test it, just to make sure you’ve got the right balance of seasonings. I find the best way to taste the sauce is to dip a slice of pepperoni in it. And then maybe another slice, just to make sure. Yum. Pepperoni. But any pizza topping should do the trick. Or I guess you could, like, use a spoon or something. To each her own.

While the sauce is simmering, I usually throw my crust into the oven — at 425 degrees — for a few minutes, just to help with the crispening process. Technical term. If I’m making a teeny just-for-me pizza, I do three minutes; if I’m doing a big for-the-whole-family pizza, I give it five minutes.

Then once your crust comes out, you slather it with the sauce you just made. Add your cheese and pepperoni and whatever else floats your pizza boat. And toss the whole thing in the oven for about twelve minutes (for a small pizza) to twenty minutes (for a big one), or until the cheese is all melty and your pepperonis are nice and crisp.

(Pro tip: I like to pre-bake my ingredients. I put sliced veggies on their own tray to dry out in a hot oven for a few minutes, which helps prevent a soggy pizza. And sometimes I’ll put the pepperoni on the raw crust when I pre-bake it for three to five minutes. That way it gets nice and crispy when I cook it for real.)

This recipe makes enough sauce for your pizza and dipping sauce and more to refrigerate. I have left mine in the fridge for… a long time. A few weeks, I’d say. But again, your results may vary and I am not recommending that you do or not do anything.

Except I do recommend that you eat pizza. Pizza is delicious.

pizza-9-sauce

Completely. Smooth. Smooooooooooth.

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It was so much fun thinking about and planning for dinner with our friends who have some dietary restrictions. You had so many helpful suggestions on my post about it, and I now have a stuffed-to-the-brim folder of delicious-sounding meals. Okay, it’s a digital folder, so I don’t know that it CAN be stuffed-to-the-brim, which is a little unsettling. Suffice it to say that I have a LOT.

One of the most useful suggestions was to simply TALK to my friend. NGS noted that she wouldn’t feel comfortable having me cook for her gluten-free family member, because the allergy is so severe. So that really spurred me to find out about my friend’s comfort level.

Over coffee, I said, “I really want to be able to cook for your family. What would you be comfortable with?” Even though I was a little anxious about the conversation, it was perfectly fine. The vegetarian family member eats fish, which was a huge relief, and everyone else eats chicken. And she was fine with me using the grill for everything – and if there was a concern about gluten being on the grill itself, we could put one piece of chicken in aluminum foil to protect it.

What we ended up with was:

  • Grilled swordfish with mango salsa
  • Green bean and jicama salad
  • Green salad with assorted dressings
  • Gluten-free macaroni and cheese (Annie’s brand)
  • Gluten-free chocolate chip cookies (Immaculate brand)

The mango salsa is my own “recipe.” I dice four mangoes, two red bell peppers, a quarter of a red onion, and douse the whole thing with lime juice. I also add jalapeno – which would of course vary based on your heat tolerance – and a handful of rough-chopped cilantro.

The green bean and jicama salad is super delicious. It’s adapted from a recipe in Thrill of the Grill, which makes little sense to me because NONE of it is grilled.

Jicama salad 1

It’s the perfect dairy-free, gluten-free salad. And it’s also perfect for hot summer days, because it’s cool and crunchy and tangy. If you, like I am, are always looking for mayonnaise-free salads to bring to picnics and barbecues, this is an excellent choice.

Here is the recipe:

Jicama salad 2

As you can see, my “adaptation” consists of leaving out the horrid, horrid tomatoes.

Three important things:

  1. In my opinion, it’s critical to make this the day that you are going to serve it. The blanching step helps keep the green beans their beautiful fresh green. But by the next day, they turn the brownish-green of canned green beans. They are still crisp and delicious, but they don’t LOOK it.
  2. It is really, really important to salt and pepper this salad. It helps tremendously with the flavor.
  3. This makes a TON of salad. Since we didn’t use any tomatoes, I used a pound and a half of green beans, and one largish jicama. The recipe says it serves 4 to 6 people. I think it would safely serve about 10 people.

Of course, I fret and fret about an evening with friends after the fact. I did have a momentary panic when I realized that two of the food items had cilantro. But what can you do AFTER the food is already made?

Jicama salad 3

I looooooooooove cilantro.

Everyone SEEMED to enjoy the food. At least, they ATE it. (Well, Carla didn’t eat anything except one of the cookies. But I anticipated that. As soon as our guests left, we fed her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.) So I’m hopeful that it went well.

And I feel much more confident about inviting this family over in the future. PHEW!

Next time, I think I will make this mushroom-and-pea-risotto (h/t Sistomax!) (whoops! Sistomax was directing me to this one, with artichokes, that ALSO sounds delicious!) and maybe these salmon kebabs (we could do chicken kebabs for the non-fish eaters). We have made the salmon kebabs in the past, and they are so pretty and delicious.

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Do you do this with any type of food?

You think about the food and it sounds amazeballs so you make it/order it at a restaurant?

And then you get the food and you eat it and you remember, oh yeah, this is not my favorite?

That’s how I am with scallops.

I’m pretty sure I have scallop-specific amnesia. Because my experience with scallops usually goes like this:

Oooh, scallops sound awesome!

I think I’ll order/make scallops!

Yum, this first scallop is WONDERFUL! I should eat scallops ALL the TIME!

Hmm. This second scallop is still good, but it’s not super.

Yeah. I think I’m full.

Seriously, by the time I reach Scallop Three, I am sick of scallops. That means more scallops for my husband, though, so SOMEONE is winning.

But if you LOVE scallops, I have a recipe to recommend to you!

It’s very easy and it’s delicious and, best of all, I think it would be equally wonderful with shrimp.

Basically, you get some scallops.

Scallops are pretty gross looking. Also, this one has a mysterious red thread of some sort on it. I… hope we removed that before we ate it.

Then you grill those scallops.

Fun fact: scallops are difficult to skewer. Plus, even when you boil them to prevent them from sticking to the grill, they stick to the freaking grill.

Then you dump this awesome sauce on them.

The sauce is made of:

1.2 cup coconut milk (We used light coconut milk and nobody died.)

4 Tbsp lime juice

1 tsp minced ginger (We keep ginger in the freezer and grate it.)

1 tsp red pepper flakes (Or not, if you are spice-averse. These gave it a surprisingly strong kick.)

2 Tbsp fresh chopped cilantro (From your cilantro plant! That’s grown so giant it is taking over all the other herbs and that poor jalapeno you planted to close to it!)

 

You mix all the ingredients together.

Don’t worry, I was skeptical of the sauce too. But it’s delicious. Tangy and spicy and exotic.

Then dump them on the cooked scallop/s. Or shrimp. Or rice. Or whatever vegetables you have lying around. If I were Guy Fieri, I would tell you that you could put it on a flip flop. But I am not and I will not. It’s good, but not good enough to make a flip flop appetizing.

(For more detailed instructions you can check out the full, original recipe in The Thrill of the Grill by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby.)

My husband I paired our scallops with some rice and some grilled zucchini planks. Delicious!

We all know I’m no food photographer, folks. It tastes a lot better than this photo would seem to indicate.

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Magic Sauce

Have I ever told you about my magic sauce?

I really don’t think I have. So I am going to tell you now.

It is magic for three reasons:

1. It is easy.

2. It is quick.

3. It makes pretty much ANYTHING taste better.

You are suspicious, I can tell.

So please, allow me to prove my points with very scientific, um, proofs.

1. It is easy.

First of all, the Magic Sauce has only four ingredients. And it requires only three kitchen items. Well, three items and a stove. And all of the kitchen items and ingredients are likely to be kitchen items and ingredients that you already have. AND you don’t have to really measure the ingredients, because you use equal parts of all four of them! Which means you ALSO don’t need to use a recipe! AND once you turn on the stove, you don’t really need to do anything except give it a stir once in a while! Really! It cooks itself just fine and dandy!

See? EASY.

2. It is quick.

The Magic Sauce takes about 10 minutes, from Combining Ingredients to Done.

And I am being 100% honest here. Because I hate when you find a recipe that says, “This takes 10 minutes to prepare and 30 minutes to cook!” and then that 10 minutes is supposed to be enough time for you to wash and chop AND measure AND combine ingredients.

But this Magic Sauce is just dumping equal parts of four ingredients into a saucepan. And turning on the stove. And stirring, if you feel like it.

3. It makes pretty much ANYTHING better.

Now, I have not tried the Magic Sauce on EVERYTHING. Partly because that would be impossible and partly because there are some foods I just won’t eat.

But I HAVE tried it on several things.

It is delicious on:

–          Broiled salmon (I season the salmon with salt, pepper, and cayenne and throw it under the broiler until the Magic Sauce is done. This makes for some crispy ass salmon, but I tend to like meats overcooked.)

Please do not judge the Magic Sauce on this poorly photographed image of broiled salmon slathered in Magic Sauce. What it lacks in beauty, it more than makes up for in deliciousness. Also, I think this may be a case of "just because you have a photo of the Magic Sauce doesn't mean you should include it." But I have spent too much time writing this caption to listen to that advice.

–          Baked potato

–          Endive appetizers (You take some Belgian endive leaves – those are the little white pointy endives with the yellow tips – and fill them with some dried cranberries, toasted pecans/walnuts, and goat cheese crumbles, and then drizzle them with not-super-hot Magic Sauce.)

–          Grilled chicken

–          Pan fried pork chops

–          Ice cream (bet you didn’t see that one coming!) (I have only tried Magic Sauce on vanilla ice cream, but I think it would be good on lemon ice cream, or raspberry, or chocolate. Or goat cheese ice cream. Have you ever had that? It is GOOD. Well, if you already like goat cheese.)

I also suspect – based on my copious Magic Sauce-eating experience – that it would taste good on several other foods. Like sautéed/grilled/roasted asparagus. Or Brussels sprouts. Or chocolate cake. Or fresh fruit (like strawberries, blueberries, or peaches). Or swordfish.

Now you want the recipe, don’t you?

Here it is:

Step 1: Combine equal parts brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and water in a medium saucepan. (I usually use ½ cup of each.) (Make sure you don’t fill the sauce pan too full, as there is some bubbling involved.)

Step 2: Stir until dissolved. Or don’t. It doesn’t really matter.

Step 3: Turn the burner on high.

Step 4: Wait until the Magic Sauce has transformed from Extremely Liquid-y to Thick And Sauce-Like. (It will bubble a LOT to get to that point. The bubbles will get increasingly sticky.) You will know the sauce is perfect when it is your ideal thickness. This takes about eight minutes, at least with my stove.

Step 5: Drown Pour over whatever food you want to enhance. Seriously.

You can save the Magic Sauce, if you have any leftover. But… It gets a bit, well, unusable. I have not yet figured out how to reheat it in a satisfactory manner.

Aside from its un-save-ability, there is one drawback to the Magic Sauce. I don’t actually find it a drawback, but my husband does.  So in the interest of full disclosure, I feel that I must share it with you.

Anyway, when the Magic Sauce is bubbling away, it gives off a very strong Vinegar Aroma. This aroma does not bother me. But it offends my husband’s delicate nostrils, so much so that he groans loudly if I want to make the Magic Sauce in his presence.

The aroma dissipates quickly, though.  So if I make Magic Sauce while my husband is working late, he doesn’t come home and wrinkle his nose in Nostril Offense.

Well! That is my Magic Sauce. Go forth and sauce it up! And then please report back with your results.

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Oh Internet, I cannot remember the last time I went grocery shopping.

Well, okay, I suppose I can. But it was a reaaalllllly long time ago.

My husband I have been busy. Like the kind of busy where you might contemplate trying to fall down a flight of stairs just so you can have an excuse to rest. (Oh crap. I’m going to fall down the stairs now, aren’t I? Well, good thing I never leave the apartment! In your face, FATE!) (Please don’t kill me.)  And we have just been too plain exhausted to think of things like shopping and cooking and so all semblance of normal meals has gone right out the window.

Yesterday? I had a 100-calorie pack of Cheez-Its and a Diet Coke for lunch.

(My husband, however, had a PB&J sandwich that I made him on Monday! And froze! In the freezer! Per Jen’s genius instructions.) (It was a test sandwich. And as the time of this posting, I have not spoken to my husband to get his thoughts on whether the test was successful enough for us to do a full-scale roll out. But I will report back.)

We have been depending on things like Chipotle and take-out sandwiches and microwave meals and frozen pizza and rotisserie chicken for nourishment. Because anything requiring more than opening a microwave, oven, or our mouths requires too much time and effort.

Aside from Failing at Eating Well, I have gotten very behind in anything resembling Normal Sleep. (Stress keeps me from falling and/or staying asleep. Whoo!) So I keep digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole of So Much Work and Not Enough Energy Slash Wakefulness to Do Said Work. Which you really don’t care about, but I am telling you because it has severely limited my blog activity. In the areas of both blog reading and blog writing. And even though you likely did not notice at all, I am SORRY.

If I may try to swing this unwieldy tangent back to the ACTUAL subject of this blog post… Back when we were only on the front edge of busy and we actually had time to shop and also Make Stuff, my husband and I came across an interesting little recipe in Bon Apetit. It was a recipe for Chickpea Salad with several variations. And the recipe was so tiny and unassuming – just a little sidebar in a longer article, not even a sideBAR so much as a sideSQUARE – and it was written in such a breezy, careless, wholly unthreatening manner that I thought “Yes! We could do that!”

It really was quite charming, Internet. It was the recipe equivalent of that friend you have who can throw on an old pair of faded slacks and a wrinkly shirt and, like, a vest or something and look effortlessly and flawlessly stylish and beautiful, but in a way that makes it clear that she didn’t even have to TRY to look stylish and beautiful, that it took really no effort at all (hence the “effortlessly” descriptor, I suppose), but not in a bitchy way – no, more in a collegial “Hey! This is so easy! You could totally look like you stepped off the pages of Abercrombie & Fitch too!” sort of way.

Now, before I get to the recipe I want to warn that it is for a salad, which means it is cold. And I’m telling you this up front because I decide to eat or not eat some things based on their temperature. Usually I would NEVER eat a chickpea that wasn’t hot and also smothered in some sort of cardamom-flavored sauce and accompanied by naan and some fluffy basmati rice. But the charm of the recipe won me over. And I ate the chickpea salad, even though it was cold, and lo! it was delicious.

So delicious that on a recent trip to the grocery store – not to SHOP, because, as I already mentioned, we do not have time for SHOPPING, but to grab some super-quick pre-cooked or super-easy-to-cook food (we have to EAT even if we are busy) – I grabbed some extra lemons so we could make some more. Alas, there was no basil, so we don’t actually have ALL the ingredients. But that’s okay because, even though this salad is easy (effortless!), we still do not have any time to make it.  (Cheez-Its and Diet Coke – that’s all the “cooking” I have in me, Internet.)

You are probably wondering about the ACTUAL recipe, and are feeling, as you read all this irrelevant back story, that I should just get ON with it. So I shall.

Chickpea Salad with Lemon, Parmesan, and Fresh Herbs

(adapted from Bon Apetit)

Ingredients:

1 15-oz can of chickpeas (Bon Apetit would like you to know they are also called garbanzo beans. In case you didn’t know.)

2 Tbsp fresh chopped basil

2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley (Or not. Parsley will not set foot in our home. NO.)

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (From lemons. Even if, as your husband points out, you have a huge Costco-sized bottle of “real lemon” lemon juice in your fridge.)

4 tsp EVOO (Have you ever noticed how Rachael Ray almost always says “Ee vee oh oh” and then specifies “extra virgin olive oil,” just in case you don’t know what EVOO means? Seems to me that doing so kind of negates the usefulness of the acronym, doesn’t it?)

I small garlic clove, pressed

1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped (This is the “adapted” part, as it was not part of the original recipe.)

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Coarse kosher salt (Or low sodium salt. From a jar.)

(It doesn't look like much, Internet. But do not let my poor salad photography skillz or chickpeas' lack of photogenicity deter you from trying this!)

 

Directions:

1. Open your chickpeas. We used two cans (and then doubled the rest of the ingredients). Pour them into a strainer and rinse them.

2. Combine your chopped basil (and parsley, if you must), fresh lemon juice, EVOO, red onion, and garlic in a medium bowl.

3. Add grated Parmesan cheese.

4. Toss gently to blend.

5. Add salt, to taste.

Do you see how easy that is, Internet? And it was DELICIOUS. I mean, how can you go wrong with garlic and lemon and EVOO and basil and Parmesan? YOU CAN’T. It’s just not possible.

I could totally see myself making this for company, or taking it to a pot luck, or eating it on the porch this summer while sipping a glass of wine.

Here, verbatim from Bon Apetit, are some variations you can try:

“For a spicy version, add some sriracha sauce. Try swapping out the lemon juice for lime juice and use feta cheese instead of Parmesan and mix in some chopped fresh cilantro and chopped red onion or shallot. For a curried chickpea salad, leave out the Parmesan and add curry powder to taste, dried currants, sliced green onions, and shredded carrots.”

Tastes delicious immediately and even better once it’s been sitting in the refrigerator overnight.

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Updated: Somehow, WordPress ate all the photos… So let’s try this again so you can actually SEE the magic…

(Fakesgiving Take 1)

(Fakesgiving Take 2)

Well Internet, I’m done with my pre-Thanksgiving cooking fiasco fiesta!

Someone who shall remain nameless may have mentioned this weekend that perhaps we should have done Practice Thanksgiving a few months ago. So we wouldn’t be sick of Thanksgiving food the week before we have to gorge ourselves with it.

Someone else who shall remain nameless may have flown into a rage gotten a wee bit irritated and pointed out that in fact WE did not make Practice Thanksgiving… Nay, I made Practice Thanksgiving, and I made it when my work schedule permitted, and WE should shut up because WE loved having turkey and stuffing sandwiches for lunch every day for a week.

Also, did I not mention this to you guys? It is rather important: My husband will be on call, overnight, on Wednesday. So it is unlikely that he will be in the apartment AT ALL on Thanksgiving Day, at least until after noon.

So, no help from him. (Although if he gets done with work early, I am putting him on Parent Entertainment Duty.)

In other news: I am sick of Thanksgiving food.

I don’t actually like Thanksgiving food all that much. Which is weird, because when I think of childhood Thanksgivings, the thought of my mom’s turkey and mashed potatoes makes me drool. But when I make it? Not so much.

Anyway.

On Monday night, I made sweet potatoes with marshmallows, my mom’s goat-cheese-and-garlic mashed potatoes, and “traditional” stuffing. (See here for the background on the whole stuffing debacle.)

There was only one near catastrophe!!!!!!1!!!!

But since then, things have steadily gone downhill. See the below photo for pictorial evidence.

I think this is the universe trying to tell me that I need to clean my kitchen floor more often.

Mental Note: If there’s enough dish soap in the bottom of a dish to make you go, “Eh… It’s just soap, it’ll wash out.” You need to wash it out BEFORE you stick it in the dishwasher. Otherwise the dishwasher will belch soap all over your floor while you are at the grocery store buying frozen pizza, wine, and Rolos.

What? I told you Internet, it’s been A WEEK.

Also, can you see how tiny my kitchen is in the photo above? It is a one-person kitchen.

ONE PERSON, Internet.

Anyway, back to the Fakesgiving.

Guess what? Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and traditional dressing are EASY!

Woot woot!

I got my mom’s recipe for her garlic and goat cheese mashed potatoes. You are going to love this. (My comments in parentheses.)

Mom’s Garlic & Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes

Step 1: Get two potatoes per person. (I used Yukon gold because America’s Test Kitchen told me too.)

Step 2: Peel them. (I wash my potatoes with soap and warm water before I peel them. Anyone else that weird? Anyone?)

Step 3: Boil some water. (Eat some of the magical lemon pudding cake my husband made in a fit of domesticity on Sunday night.)

Step 4: Quarter the potatoes. (Realize you should have waited to peel them because they are turning a mysterious reddish color.)

Step 5: Grab a big ol’ head of garlic. Peel all the cloves. (Mmmmmmm garlic.) (Yes, a whole head.)

Step 6: Put the garlic and potatoes in the water and boil until an inserted fork slides out with no resistance. (I think this took about 20 minutes?)

Step 7: Drain the potatoes. (Note: It is easier to pour a giant pot of boiling water into a standing colander than to try, with one hand, to maneuver the pot of boiling water into a small strainer held in the other hand.)

Step 8: Return the potatoes and the garlic to the pot. Add 4 ounces of goat cheese and ½ cup of milk to the pot. Squish everything together with a potato masher. (Sneak in a few tablespoons of butter for good measure.)

Step 9: Salt and pepper to taste. (Make sure to do multiple taste tests to “get the flavors and consistency right.”)

Step 10: Transfer the mashed potatoes to a baking dish.

Easy peasy. And delicious.

The sweet potatoes were just as simple!

I adapted my recipe from America’s Test Kitchen.

Mrs. Doctor’s Totally Untested Marshmallow-Topped Sweet Potatoes

Step 1: Peel some sweet potatoes. (Again with the washing before peeling.)

Step 2: Cut the sweet potatoes in quarters lengthwise, then cut them into ¼ inch pieces. (Try your hardest not to throw one of the sweet potatoes on the floor.)

Step 3: Put 4 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Melt the butter on low. (Or medium, until you actually read the recipe and see it says, very clearly, LOW.)

Step 4: Add  two tablespoons of whole milk, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and ½ teaspoon of salt to the butter. (Also add in a teaspoon of cinnamon and a generous shake of nutmeg. Just for kicks.)

Step 5: Cook on low (or medium, whatevs) for 35 minutes, or until a fork inserted into the sweet potatoes comes out with no resistance.

Step 6: Squish everything together with a potato masher. (Or a fork, if the potato masher is in the dishwasher and you don’t feel like handwashing it.)

Step 7: Scrape the squished sweet potatoes into a baking dish.

Step 8: Put a bunch of marshmallows on top.

Step 9: Put the marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes into a 400-degree oven. (NOT a 525-degree oven, dear god no.)

(This is what happens if you ignore that last instruction:)

(Yes, those are broiled marshmallows. NOT charcoal briquettes.)

Step 10: Watch the sweet potatoes VERY CAREFULLY until the marshmallows are puffy and golden-brown. (Do NOT sit on the couch and watch How I Met Your Mother until smoke comes pouring out of the oven. See: Above photo.)

Step 11: Remove the dish from the oven. (OR, remove the dish from the oven, getting burned, melty marshmallows all over your pot holder, and then scrape burned marshmallows off the top into the sink, and then add new marshmallows to the top and repeat steps 8 through 11.)

And the “traditional” dressing? SO EASY TOO!

I got the dressing recipe from The Pioneer Woman. But it’s very, very simple.

The Pioneer Woman’s “Traditional” Thanksgiving Stuffing

(Note: I was a little loosey goosey with this recipe. See PW’s site for the correct measurements of everything.)

Step 1: Get some cornbread and some crusty French bread. Cut all the bread into bite-sized chunks and set on a cookie sheet to dry overnight.

Step 2: Dice a whole white onion and two (ish) cups of celery.

Step 3: Melt a whole stick of butter (I just used half a stick, but I used half the bread, too.) in a big pan on the stove.

Step 4: Toss the veggies into the melted butter. Cook until translucent.

Step 5: Cut up some fresh rosemary and thyme.

Step 6: Add 4 cups of chicken stock to the pan. Let it come to a boil.

Step 7: Add the herbs plus ½ teaspoon of dried basil to the pan.

Step 8: Stir to combine. (Become confused. Is that really all there is to it? Allow the chicken stock mixture to reduce by half whilst doing dishes.)

Step 9: Put the bread chunks into a bowl (or your oven-proof serving dish of choice) and mix them around.

Step 10: Add the chicken stock mixture until the bread has the appropriate consistency.

Step 11: Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown on top.

So. Freaking. Easy.

And yet, not super photogenic.

I mean, the other stuffing was awesome. (Except for the soggy bread part of it, I mean.) But it was INVOLVED. Lots of chopping and ingredients and yada yada. This was so simple!

And my husband loved it! He deemed it perfectly traditional.

He also enjoyed the sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes.

And then I took a sample of the mashed potatoes and the stuffing to my book club. The ladies all took minuscule portions to taste, and deemed it good.

And then told me that, guess what? You can BUY STUFFING PRE MADE!!!

Yes, thank you. Good plan.

(Clearly they don’t realize I am a big fan of Doing Things the Hard Way.)

Now that I have made all the separate elements of Thanksgiving dinner, I feel good. I feel confident. I know the Potential Fire Causing Elements, so I will keep a close eye on them.

But I am a little… anxious about how to put it all together. I have been making shopping lists… And I’m trying to create a schedule, so I know what I can chop/prepare ahead of time… And I’m trying to lay out all the cleaning things I need to do in advance.

So now all that’s left is for me to figure out appetizers (although I’m thinking VERY EASY stuff, like spiced nuts and veggies with dip and some cheese and crackers). I’m going to make butternut squash soup for dinner the night before Thanksgiving, possibly with a small salad.

Speaking of which… I’d like to have a salad for Thanksgiving Day as well. My mom gave me a recipe for a simple Waldorf salad, and I found a delicious-sounding salad recipe that I can pretty much prepare in advance. So I will have to run those by my husband to see what he thinks his parents would prefer.

For dessert, I’ll be making my husband’s amazing pumpkin bars.

I think I’ll also see if my mother-in-law wants to pick something up – something chocolate. (She likes having a chocolate dessert.)

I would like to have a Signature Thanksgiving Drink. Something with ingredients and measurements, so I can ask my mother-in-law to make it. Therefore, it should also be something involving gin. (We may have our differences, but gin unites us!)

Anybody have any ideas?

Now, all I need is for work to cooperate. Which is unlikely, seeing as this is The Busiest Time of the Year. Which is good but anxiety-producing at the same time.

Wow. This post really detoured into the Excruciatingly Boring there didn’t it? (Don’t answer that.)

Let me distract you with some lemon pudding cake!

It doesn’t look like much, but it is seriously amazing. But the story of the pudding cake shall have to wait until another day.

Okay, that’s a lie. There’s not really a story. I’m just sick of typing out recipes. Perhaps as sick of it as you are of reading them.

Is anyone still here? Bueller?

Anyway, I am READY for Thanksgiving. Ready for it to be OVER.

(You: Seriously. Then maybe you will talk about something else.)

(Me: Unlikely.)

(You: Doh!)

Have a fabulous Friday and a lovely weekend, Internet. If you need me, I’ll be cleaning my apartment. Perhaps I can encourage my dishwasher to vacuum the living room. It did such a nice job on the kitchen floor, after all…

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Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, Internet!

I asked for help and man, did you EVER come through for me!

Thanks to all your advice, I am genuinely excited about Thanksgiving!

And yes, I may be totally loony tunes… but I am also super stubborn. I plan to ask my in laws to bring a dessert and possibly stuffing and – something I didn’t even consider until I read your comments – ALCOHOL. That is a great way to get them to feel like they are contributing! Plus, a little wine (or, let’s face it, a LOT of wine) can really help de-stress a stressful situation.

Anyway, I cannot properly thank you enough. Not just for your help with this Thanksgiving situation… But for showing up. For reading. For filling this space with helpful, loving comments. If I didn’t have this blog… if I didn’t have YOU… well, I know this past year would have been much more lonely.

* * * * *

This past weekend, I got a wild hare to make cupcakes. My desire to bake was influenced by two things:

  1. My husband’s deep and all-consuming love of frosting
  2. This post

Now let me tell you a little about my husband.

Of all the foods in all the lands, he loves cake and ice cream the most. And the cake must have frosting. But not just any kind of frosting… Oh no, my husband is a Picky Frosting Eater. (Which is fine – I understand about all things picky.)

So when I saw Mel’s recipe for magical frosting… Well, I couldn’t NOT make it, right? I mean, what kind of wife would I be if I ignored this chance to make him one of his all-time favorite foods?

Now, let me tell you a little about me.

I don’t bake.

This is not for lack of trying, Internet. I mentioned the other day that I made apple pie once. It tasted like rotten shortening.

I once mixed up olive oil and vegetable oil and made cookies that were not only greasy, but also bitter.

I once made a cake (from a mix) and homemade frosting, which was so runny it proceeded to soak into the cake and turn it into brown goo.

Baking… Not my strong suit.

But I was bound and determined to make my husband some cupcakes with frosting. From scratch.

(See above RE: loony tunes but stubborn.)

I found a delicious and fall-sounding recipe for pumpkin pie cupcakes.

I pulled out our Kitchen Aid mixer – which we haven’t used EVER despite getting it as a wedding present nearly two years ago – I went to the grocery store, and I got started.

Now, because I love you, Internet, and you deserve to add this recipe to your repertoire, I am going to tell you exactly how to make these delicious cupcakes.

And when I say “exactly,” I mean EXACTLY. Step by step. With all the super important secrets I learned from my cupcaking experience.

(Frosting recipe adapted from Mel’s recipe for The Best Frosting.)

Step 1: Make a list. It’s always a good idea to make a list before going to the grocery store. That way you don’t forget things or throw a bunch of good-sounding things into your cart.*

For this recipe, you need:

For the frosting:

1.5 cups granulated sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt

1.5 cups milk (1% is A-okay!)

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

24 tablespoons unsalted butter**

For the cupcakes:

1.5 sticks unsalted butter

1.5 cups dark brown sugar

1/3 cup + 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 cups cake flour

3 tsp baking powder

1.5 teaspoons baking soda

1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1.5 teaspoons ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¾ teaspoon salt

3/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 large eggs

¾ cup buttermilk

1.5 teaspoon vanilla

15 ounces solid-pack pumpkin (not pie filling)

It’s a long and daunting list. And I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes skip a recipe because it has a lot of ingredients. However, we had most of these ingredients in our cupboards. And OMG Internet, this recipe is WORTH IT.

Step 2: Make sure all your equipment is clean. There is nothing worse (at least not to a germaphobe) than trying to make cupcakes and discovering that you don’t have any clean bowls or measuring spoons. There is also nothing worse (at least not to a germaphobe) than failing to remember if you properly cleaned your Kitchen Ad mixer bowl and accompanying tools after you managed to get dirty water in all the cabinets and drawers to the left of your sink. Wipe the mixing blade down with a Clorox wipe followed by a soapy wet paper towel followed by a wet paper towel when you can’t figure out how to remove the blade from the mixer. Put everything else you could possibly need in the dishwasher and turn it on.

Step 3: Go to the grocery store. Make sure to bring your list! Dawdle in the Halloween candy aisle until you can no longer resist the lure of the candy corn. Throw a bunch of candy corn in the cart.

Decide that today is the day you need to redecorate your house for Halloween. Put an orange plate shaped like a leaf in your cart. Remove the orange plate shaped like a leaf from your cart. Get in line. Realize after you’ve put the last item on the conveyor belt that you forgot the nutmeg. Decide that nutmeg is not worth the hassle of getting out of line. Take a detour to Crate and Barrel where you pick up various fall-themed items and put them back, finally leaving with a package of 12 colorful leaf decorations for $9.95 and two lidded glass containers costing $1.95 each. Reward all your frugal shopping with a trip to Starbucks. Buy a pumpkin spice latte. Enjoy.

Step 4: Go home and put the groceries away. Discover that you already had two unopened packages of butter in your fridge. Pull out 4 sticks of butter and put them on the counter to “soften to room temperature.” Grab the stepladder and pray to the Baking Gods that you have nutmeg in the cupboard somewhere. Success!

Step 5: Read the recipes carefully. This is critical, Internet! And something that I usually ignore. But not this time!!! Discover that it makes the most sense to start the frosting… Then make the cupcakes… Then finish the frosting. Enjoy some of the Halloween candy whilst reading.

Step 6: Line up your equipment on the counter. Man, that Kitchen Aid mixer is heavy. Get out a “medium bowl.” This terminology makes no sense to me, Internet. “Medium” can mean a lot of things. And yet, I don’t have a better descriptor for you. You’re also going to need a fine-mesh strainer (although I used a regular old strainer and it was fine) and a medium saucepan, plus an assortment of measuring cups and spoons and a few spatulas. Spatulae? Spatuli?

Step 7: Start the frosting. Combine the flour, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in your medium bowl. (By the way – I picked a bowl that was too big. So I swapped it out at the last minute.) Slowly whisk in the milk until the mixture is smooth. It’s going to be really, well, milky. The sugar and flour dissolve quickly in the milk.

Step 8: Put your strainer over the medium sauce pan and pour the sugar/milk/flour mixture through it. This is apparently really important, based on the comments I read after Mel’s recipe. And it was necessary – the strainer caught a few un-dissolved pebbles of sugar.

Step 9: Cook the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly. I tried really hard to whisk constantly, Internet. But I did leave it alone a few times – for maybe a minute at a time – to wash out the bowl I’d mixed the milk and dry stuff in. Anyway, you whisk until the mixture starts to get so thick you can’t whisk anymore. According to Mel’s recipe, this should take about 5-10 minutes. It took me about 12 minutes, and the thickening happened really fast at the end. Mel’s recipe also says that the mixture will start bubbling and popping a lot at the end. And it sure did – it made these huge bubbles that popped all over the place, so much so that I lifted the mixture off the heat while whisking.

Step 10: Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl. (This is the bowl I cleaned while it was thickening.)  Then set it aside until it’s completely cooled to room temperature. Mel warned that this was extremely important, a caution I did not take lightly. You can apparently refrigerate it… but I just set it on a trivet and put it out of the way.

Now it’s time to start the cupcakes! (Cupcake recipe adapted from Tara’s recipe for Caramel Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes.)

Step 11: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t forget to do this. Because it is really boring to stand around staring at a cupcake tin full of cupcake batter while the oven preheats.

Step 12: Prepare two standard-sized cupcake tins with cupcake papers. Or prepare one cupcake tin that makes just six cupcakes at a time because that’s all you have. It’s extra fun if you use Halloween-y cupcake papers to match the pumpkin flavor of your cupcakes. But if you want to be boring, you can use single-color papers.

Step 13: In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until fluffy. Tara says this should take about 5 minutes. Well, it takes more time than that if you’ve never used your mixer before, let me tell you.

Step 14: Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper into a medium bowl. If you do not have a mixer, you can use the same strainer (washed and dried) you used to strain the icing in Step 8. You will likely get flour etc all over the edges of your “medium bowl” and perhaps on the counter and even some in the sink. If you forget to sift the spices with the flour, you can simply scoop them out of your “medium bowl” and resift the whole thing.

Step 15: Add the eggs, one at a time, to the mixer. Beat them into the butter/sugar mixture for about 30 seconds apiece. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the mixer with a spatula between each egg. If you tend to be unable to break an egg without getting pieces of shell into the yolk, you can break all three eggs into a small glass bowl, remove any errant shell pieces, and add them to the mixer from the bowl.

Step 16: Alternate adding the flour and milk mixtures to the mixer. Begin and end with the flour. Stand back from the mixer because it will puff finely sifted flour up at you and cover your blue tank top in a white mist.

Step 17: Beat in the pumpkin until smooth. Try to ignore its resemblance to cat food.

Step 18: Using a large ice cream scoop, fill the cupcake papers with the mixture. If you don’t have an ice cream scoop (who doesn’t have an ice cream scoop?) (also, didn’t we have an ice cream scoop during med school?), use a 1/3 cup measuring cup to fill the cupcake papers. Try to pour the batter directly in the middle of the cupcake depressions or the cupcake papers will tip sideways.

Step 19: Lick your fingers.

Step 20: Wash your hands.

Step 21: Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. I found that 17 minutes was perfect for this recipe, but I’m guessing it depends on your oven and the amount of batter you add to the cupcake papers.

Step 22: Transfer the rest of the batter into a large bowl so you can wash out the mixer bowl and the mixing blade. You will need these for the icing later.

Step 23: Check on the frosting. It will not be room temperature yet. Turn over the trivet in case that helps it cool faster. Stir the frosting mixture  in case THAT helps it cool faster.

Step 24: Cut the now room-temperature butter into one-tablespoon pieces. Holy butter overload Batman.

Step 25: Turn on a Law & Order: SVU marathon because watching cupcakes slowly rise through the oven door is not all that interesting. Try not to get distracted by Elliott Stabler while you wait for the timer to go off.

Step 26: When the cupcakes are done, cool them in the pan on a wire rack for five minutes. Then remove the cupcakes from the tin and put them on wire racks to cool completely.

Step 27: Repeat Steps 18-25 until your counters are covered in delicious-smelling albeit bald pumpkin pie cupcakes.

Step 28: Once your frosting “base” is room temperature, – with no trace of heat whatsoever – add it to the newly-cleaned mixer bowl. Beat the mixture with vanilla on low speed until well-combined.

Step 29: Add the butter, one piece at a time, to the mixture. Beat the frosting for about two minutes or until all the butter is combined. Room temperature butter is sticky, y’all. You’ll want to scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl every once in a while.

Step 30: Increase the mixer speed to medium-high. Beat the frosting for five minutes until it’s light and fluffy.

Step 31: If you can’t leave well enough alone, add food coloring to the frosting and beat until well combined.

If you don’t have any red food coloring left, with which to make Halloween-y orange frosting, make do with green.

Step 32: Take photos of your colorful frosting in small glass containers.

Step 33: Let the frosting sit at room temperature until it stiffens up. This did not happen for me. Possibly because I couldn’t wait. Mel notes that you might be able to pipe the frosting if you refrigerate it for a while.

Step 34: Frost the cupcakes. I used both a knife (for the yellow frosting) and a peanut-butter-and-jelly spreader (for the green and white frostings) to frost the cupcakes. Both worked swimmingly.

Step 35: Test a cupcake. Or two.

By the way… The different colored frostings don’t have different flavors. I know because I tested them extensively. You’re welcome.

The end!

It’s a long process. Possibly because I make things overly complicated… Possibly because I am a baking novice and took eight times as long to do things as normal people would.

But the cupcakes turned out great! The cake is moist and flavorful without being overly pumpkin-y. The frosting is smooth and buttery and sweet enough for me – although my husband prefers frosting so sweet it hurts your teeth.

The end result? My husband enjoyed the cupcakes a lot. He said that they taste like the kind of cupcakes you’d find at one of those nowadays practically ubiquitous gourmet cupcakeries. He even took some into the hospital to share with his team! But he did admit – after much prodding – that he wouldn’t mind if the frosting were sweeter. I’ll experiment with level of sugariness next time.

By the way, this recipe produced 30 cupcakes and enough frosting to ice an elephant. Seriously. We still have frosting in our freezer. Which my husband loves, because he eats it with a spoon.

I hope you make these cupcakes! You’ll love them. Absolutely worth the work.

—————————————————————

* The magic of list making does not always work.

** Don’t look at me like that! I didn’t say this recipe was healthy.

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