Kitchen Through the Lens: Empanadas

The biggest enemy of this project is not time – though I don’t have a whole lot of that – but winter. Winter’s early darkness coupled with my unflattering environmentally friendly lightbulbs makes photographing food a pain in the booty if I decide to cook once I get home from work.

Today I tried to beat the sunset.

No go.

bless the kitchenaid

In my efforts to beat the darkness, I picked what could very well have been the worst recipe for empanada dough. Most of the recipes were more pastry based, calling for cold cold butter and rolling the whole mess out and letting it chill in the fridge an hour.


So I chose a recipe from which frankly was too sweet (1/3 cup sugar? Gross), too thick, and… not quite right.


Not feeling so optimistic about this dough

Also? A pain to roll out.

I want a pastry dough squisher

I should have used a bigger glass.

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Having seen a recipe in O Magazine for empanadas, I was hell bent on a rotisserie chicken and poblano pepper variation. Poblanos look a bit like infinities when you slice ’em. Pretty.

I chopped up some leftover rotisserie chicken, mixed it with diced poblanos and squished it in the middle of the dough, and crimped it shut with a fork.

portrait of a badly lit empanada

Badly lit empanadas are badly lit.

They actually had real potential…with a different dough.

Impatience. It’ll get you ever time.

I haven’t declared the empanada a complete failure but… that dough? Oh. Ew. Gross. NEVER. AGAIN.

Kitchen Through the Lens: Pasta Sauce

Every time I make pasta using sauce from a jar, I chastise myself. It can’t  be that difficult, I think. Plus, can you even pronounce half of the garbage that’s in here? (I’ve taken to buying organic sauce which, yeah, I CAN pronounce the ingredients, but…EVEN SO…)

Pasta sauce is one of those things.

There are very few jarred sauces I like and honestly, I can never remember which ones those are when I go to the store and then I end up buying some garbagey thing that tastes awful and then it just sits in my fridge until it’s so old that the sauce around the rim of the jar is so crusty that I couldn’t take the lid off if I tried.

ANYWAY. That is how pasta sauce ended up on my list (I think I actually wrote “marinara sauce” and I am sure there is some legit difference between marinara and just any old pasta sauce, but I don’t know that difference, and I know what I meant when I wrote the list).

No tears

This recipe was pretty darn easy.

(It was also pretty darn boring. Next time? Imma add better stuff)

In a sauce pan, heat up onions and olive oil and salt for about ten minutes (the recipe called for a LOT of olive oil – I reduced it by a lot. I didn’t see the need for so much oil and it seems to have come out okay anyway).

Nit picky tomatoes

Add two 28-oz cans of San Marzano tomatoes, pureed with their juices.

These are more expensive than just any other whole tomato. And they were in a different section. At my grocery store, there’s a TOMATO section and an AUTHENTIC ITALIAN tomato section. Sooooo… here’s some fancy pants tomatoes. I guess.

I love the smell of basil

Seven basil leaves.

Also: add more salt.

Bring to a bubble on high. Cover and let simmer for about 45 minutes.

I can pronounce all the ingredients in this sauce and it was mostly edible

In the end, though boring, it was still a win. It’s far too much for me and the girls – I’ve frozen half of the sauce and I’ve packaged up a few separate dishes of pasta and sauce to take to work for lunches this week (I’m going to be so sick of spaghetti). Next time, I’d maybe add more garlic. I keep thinking of elements of things I could add to make this tastier (mmmm pancetta…), but the fact is, I do dig its simplicity, and I do like that if I cut the olive oil down a liiiiiitttttttllllllleeeeee bit further, this is still a relatively healthy sauce and not bogged down by a bunch of junky (and delicious!) extras that make it less healthy.

Short story long, it was a win. The kids liked it. I’ll either halve the recipe next time or just be prepared to freeze in smaller quantities to have sauce on hand…pretty much until the end of time.

Kitchen Through the Lens: Cream Puffs

I have to admit, i wasn't not at all optimistic about these at the start. GROSS BLOBBY BLOBS

I’ve never had a cream puff before.

I don’t even think I’ve ever been tempted to eat a cream puff before.

Why did I put them on my list?


But… I’m glad I did.

I used a recipe from The Princess’s newest cookbook. Yes. I used a kid’s can bake cookbook. That means that this recipe was even simpler than it might otherwise be (I saw other recipes that used all sorts of ingredients  – including pudding mix?). This one was simple. Boil water, butter and a smidge of salt. Throw in some flour. stir until it forms a ball. Let it cool before adding eggs, one at a time. Stir those eggs in vigorously.

That egg stirring thing? What a freaking pain. Pop it on the cookie sheets into slimy hills as pictured above.

Then bake.

cream puffs. sans cream. so. puffs.

I did The Shred while they were baking. That is what we call “fooling ourselves” – will my workout cancel out the cream puff? Hmmmm… I’m gonna say yes.



homemade whipped cream is better than most things

Cut the top third of the cream puff off. Pile in some homemade whipped cream (what? You’re not making you’re own whipped cream? You should! It’s so easy!). Chill your mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer for a bit – then add a cup of whipping cream, a tablespoon of powdered sugar, and about a teaspoon of vanilla and then let that stuff blend. I always double the recipe because whipped cream is perfect for eating out of a bowl with a kitchen spoon.

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Add whipped cream to your puff. Sprinkle some powdered sugar on top. VOILA. This was a tasty, happy, pleasant surprise. Delish.


Kitchen Through the Lens: Croissants


I feel I should start this post with the most crucial piece of information: Making your own croissants is the biggest pain in the ass.

Sure, you can try it once, y’know, do it just to do it…so you can say you did.

But if you were to do a cost-benefit-analysis of making your own croissants, the answer would most certainly, nearly 100% of the time tell you that it is a way better use of your time and patience to just go to the nearest bakery and buy one.

No lie.

Blobby dough

The process of making croissants is about eight hours long.

Yeah. You read that right.

Next add one heart attack's worth of butter.

And the butter!

Oh my gosh, the butter.

Once you make these yourself, you may not be able to shake from your head JUST HOW MUCH BUTTER YOU USED.

If it's SORT OF a triangle, does it count?

Or how you have to roll and fold and roll and fold and chill and roll and fold and roll and fold (that’s where the flakiness comes from).

Apparently the pros just run this stuff through what’s called a “sheeter” – flattens that whole mess right out – no rolling necessary.

Then again, I’m counting all that rolling as a strength workout.

You better love your rolling pin.

I'm pretty sure I'm doing this wrong.

But the thing is, when all is said and done and you take a croissant fresh from the oven and you take a bite of its buttery and flakey goodness? For a moment you will forget just how hard you worked and instead think to yourself, Maybe I could do this again.


If you’re smart, you’ll just eat your croissant and you won’t put the other ones back in the oven for just a wee bit more cooking and burn the bottoms. Yeah. I did that. Whoops.

i really should only make things when I have my lovely natural light to make them pretty

Really, will I make these again? Uh. They were amazing, but no. I just don’t want to work that hard for a croissant. I mean, start to finish EIGHT HOURS?

Delicious, but, no. Never again.

Kitchen Through the Lens: Green Salsa/Salsa Verde

salsa verde

Salsa is my favorite condiment.

I could take or leave ketchup. Mustard is a sandwich go-to but sparingly. Mayo is not something I use by choice. But salsa. GLORIOUS SALSA. I could sit down with the jar and a spoon and GO TO TOWN.


And I dig green salsa too, even though it tends to be a bit spicier and no, it doesn’t really “go” with everything. It’s still good stuff.


You know, I’ve never bought a tomatillo before?

I have no idea if these are good tomatillos. There’s probably a reasonable mechanism for determining the ripeness of a tomatillo. You should google that before you go shopping.

I didn’t.


And shallots.

They hide those suckers at the store. These were on a side of an end cap on a shelf, somewhere near the bottom. In a bag. WAY TO HIDE THE SHALLOTS. That’s okay. I wanted to spend five minutes looking. Honestly, I thought they’d be closer to the onions.


So, you’ve got some tomatillos, shallots, cilantro, a jalapeño, green chiles and other stuff (and you know what that other stuff is because UP THERE you clicked the link for the recipe, right? RIGHT). Shove it all in your food processor.

I maybe was supposed to cut stuff smaller

Maybe you chop your stuff into smaller pieces.

I think I made my food processor mad with all these big ol’ veggies.

Pulse, pulse, pulse.

VOILA. Done.

I wasn’t really sure what I’d do with this, but it is amazing served with nachos. Chips, some lovely cheddar and for fun some shredded pork… then dunk in the green salsa.

So full of win.


Kitchen Through the Lens: Mudslide Cookies

Narsai Mudslide cookie

My dad has been talking about these cookies for several years now. That’s how they made the list – dad talking about these legendary cookies from Narsai David who is a cook from Berkeley. Dad would talk about these cookies, so chocolately, so rich – and he finally forwarded me this recipe years ago. I never made them.

Like many recipes that I held on to for YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS, these cookies made the list when I was brainstorming this project. This is an excellent time to try things I have never made before. Sure, cookies aren’t a stretch for me in the kitchen – I love to bake – but, you know… why have I never made these?

I won’t keep y’all in suspense any longer: They’re pretty damn good.

But they’re rich. So rich. Have a glass of cold milk at the ready – or as I did, serve with ice cream.
Narsai Mudslide cookie

So, I guess I should say a few things about the process. The first being – improvisation is good. If you don’t have a double boiler (and I don’t) you can always fake it by putting a glass bowl on top of a sauce pan that has about an inch or so of water in it. Don’t burn yourself on the pan, or the bowl or the hot chocolate. That would suck.
dry ingredients


A lot of recipes call for instant coffee. I don’t even know if Starbucks Via is what they have in mind – what I do know is that buying a massive jar of garbage I wasn’t ever gonna drink didn’t appeal to me. One of these packets is just under two teaspoons. I don’t know if I messed things up – like if this is too concentrated – what I also know is that I didn’t like the flavor the instant coffee added (AND I LOVE COFFEE). I’d probably skip it next time. Really.

Narsai Mudslide cookie

You’re supposed to roll the batter in parchment. ROLL THE BATTER INTO PARCHMENT. It was like… soup. It wasn’t rolling. It blobbed into the parchment. Once you stick it in the fridge and let it firm up, the consistency is much like fudge. Since I blobbed and not rolled, I used a knife to slice off big chunks of dough to cook.

Narsai Mudslide cookie

Easy peasy.

Warm, fresh out of the oven? Pure heaven. With some melty vanilla ice cream on the side? Freaking AMAZING.

So, thanks dad. You were right.

Now, who’s gonna get all of these cookies outta my house?





should make about 12 large cookies
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
6oz. semi sweet chocolate
2 tbl unsalted butter

Melt unsweetened and semi sweet chocolates with butter in double boiler. Let cool.

B ¼ C sifted flour
¼ tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
Sift together the dry ingredients.

C 7/8 C sugar

2 tsp. instant coffee
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
#1 – Beat eggs, sugar, coffee and vanilla until thick ……

#2 – Beat in Chocolate.

#3 – Add Dry Ingredients
D 7 oz. semi sweet chocolate chips

1/8 lb. walnuts, coarsely chopped
Stir into dough

E On a sheet of baking parchment or waxed paper, form dough into a log 3″ in diameter. Roll up, twist the ends to secure, and chill until firm.

F Preheat oven to 350F.

Slice dough with a sharp, thin knife dipped in hot water and place on a non stick cookie sheet (or sheet lined with no stick baking parchment).
Bake for 12 – 15 minutes until tops are dry but centers are still soft. Do not over bake.
(If desired, cookie dough may be spooned out in teaspoonfuls and baked 10 –    12 minutes.)

Day 28: On cooking

The other night, I had an amazing dinner prepared by people who truly love the process of cooking. While I love watching other people cook (which is why the Food Network appeals to me so much), there’s something amazing about sitting at a counter while food is being prepared, watching people who truly enjoy themselves in the kitchen, preparing a meal that will eventually leave you so full you’ll be grateful for the stretch in your jeans.

When I spoke about cooking, I said as I always do, “I’m not a cook, I bake.”

I make a lot of self-deprecating comments in general about my cooking abilities and how I dislike it but I guess that’s not entirely true.

If I had all the time in the world (or, y’know, a free hour or so) to prepare a meal without twenty other things vying for my attention? I think I’d enjoy it more. Coming home after a long day of work when my children are already hungry and trying to get a meal on the table before hungry turns to “hangry” is less fun. I feel I’m on a race to beat the clock in order to feed the girls (and me!) before tempers flare.

Kind of sucks the joy out of it all, if you must know.

It’s part of the reason I started the Kitchen Through the Lens project in the first place. What I have been finding is that it’s not that I hate cooking, or even that I’m bad at it (quite the contrary, I have made some stuff that I’ve been pretty darn pleased with), it’s that I just want to slow down. I want to cook with enough natural light streaming in my windows that I can take pictures of the food if I want to.


Those were taken with my phone in a kitchen at night before being sauteed with olive oil, leeks and garlic. It was amazing. And how beautiful, right? I want to buy all of the vegetables and take all of the pictures. And then let someone who loves to cook make magic out of them.


I want to feel confident enough in the way that I cook that I move around my kitchen with ease and am not so flustered with the details of the processs that I couldn’t enjoy company sitting with me as I cooked.

I’m not there yet.

I grew up in a house of hurried meals thrown together at the end of the day – well, that is until I got old enough to cook. Then I grew up getting dinner started for my mom to finish throwing something together at the end of the day. Or then I started making dinners to have ready when she got home (never anything fancy, always gross boxed meals – I’m probably still full of preservatives from those years). I certainly had no example of my mom enjoying the process.

Will I ever be a good cook who truly enjoys it? I have no idea. I’m hoping, as the year (and this project) goes on, though, that I gather more confidence and less reluctance to flex my skills in the kitchen.

We’ll see if it happens.

Day 3: On Love and Food and Not Being Emotionally Stunted

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This morning, I watched a demonstration on how to make cinnamon rolls. Cinnamon rolls covered in ooey gooey perfect cream cheese frosting. And the smell of cinnamon and brown sugar intermingling as they baked, that smell is pure joy to me. There is nothing quite like the smell of baked goods warming your home. In a few weeks, I’ll stock up on molasses and there will be several batches of gingerbread and gingerbread cookies throughout the holiday season. The girls and I will host our annual cookie decorating party (year five?) and then, on Christmas Eve Day, we’ll begin our annual making of monkey bread.

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I’m not sure when I began my tradition of making monkey bread on Christmas Eve day – but for the past several years, the girls have joined me in the process of baking it and every year on Christmas morning, we’ve warmed my mother’s house with the baking of monkey bread while kids tear into presents at the gruesomely early time my mom likes to host Christmas (don’t ask what time – you’re probably still sleeping).

The kids squeal with joy over their new toys and they pose for pictures wearing the matching pajamas I’ve given them on Christmas eve (another tradition), and always always that smell of warm cinnamon and brown sugar. It’s almost just a relaxing bit of sameness that signals what the day is.

I can’t imagine the day without it.

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I’ve always been a baker.

My mom used to make this amazing thing called brownie pie. Once I started to bake, I don’t think my mother ever baked again. No more brownie pie. Almost makes me wish I’d never started baking.

When I was a kid, I made all kinds of things – lemon meringue pie, doughnuts (that we a) had a deep fryer that I could make doughnuts in and b) that my mother was letting me cook in very hot oil when I was very young are two things that completely baffle me now, but at the time, it seemed kind of neat). I made every birthday cake. I made the birthday treats my sister would take to school for many many years. Eventually I would do the same for my daughters.


My dad’s mother was a baker and an amazing cook. A woman who signed her cards, “Love, Grandmother” she wasn’t a stereotypically loving, soft, warm grandparent. In fact, even though she only died in the past few years, I don’t feel like I ever knew her very well.

When she died I was told at her memorial service, “You know, she didn’t like you very much.” It would have been hurtful had I not already known it was true. But I wasn’t surprised and I hadn’t invested a whole lot of my heart in her, and I really hadn’t known her well.

I don’t remember her ever saying “I love you.”

When I was in high school, she once tried to serve me a piece of cake. I don’t really like cake – I love a thick dense flourless chocolate cake or a rich and utterly sinful cheesecake, but high school Sarah was watching calories and figured Why waste calories on something I don’t even like?

She was upset with me.

And as my love-hate relationship with food went on for a lot of years, I was oblivious to the ways she was trying to show that she cared. That to her, affection came in the form of preparing a meal for her family and putting it on the table and leaving people satisfied, with bellies so full that they would finally push their chairs away from the table groaning about not being able to eat another bite.

But, I didn’t want to be full or be satisfied. I wanted to be small and fit into my clothes. And so in retrospect, time and time again, I probably rejected the only way she knew how to show that she cared.

New Years Ice Cream Sandwiches

And here I am now. One who cooks (welllllll…. that may be stretching it) and one who bakes.

And yet not one so emotionally stunted that it is my only way of saying, “Hey you – you’re important!” I see now, when I prepare a dessert or I make a meal one of my daughters has requested, that bit of heart that goes in it, the piece of me saying, “I’m spending time doing this and it’s time I would spend gladly because you’re special to me and I want to feed you and gift you with good flavors and a good dessert and I want this little part of your day to be happy because of this because I care.”

But I try to say it in other ways.

And I try not to be so disheartened with the process that if by some chance, I make a meal at the request of The Princess and I can tell by the look on her face that there’s no way this is going to be a successful dinner, while I may be upset at the time I’ve spent unsuccessfully trying to please her (and her palette!), I know that it doesn’t mean that she loves me any less. I also know that my inability to make good tacos has nothing to do with how much I love my children. Or anyone. (Really – dinner tonight? Massive fail. Stay tuned for this week’s Kitchen Through the Lens for details).


That monkey bread on Christmas morning? It’s a warm hug from me to my family. It’s a sweet way of starting a busy day. It’s a bit of the expected, and it’s tradition. It’s every bit as much of the part of the day as the stockings full of gifts, the living room strewn with pine needles, or everyone under the age of 40 griping about the temperature of my mom’s house (SO. COLD.).

It means something.

But it doesn’t mean everything.

And that’s one of the many ways I am a different kind of woman than my grandmother was. There’s fun in baking a cake for your coworkers and bringing it into the office and sharing it with cold glasses of milk by your side. There’s joy in sitting in a park eating a cheesecake you made. A joy in mailing cookies to friends across the country (and across the world).

And it means something to me every time.

But not everything.

I’m not the best at showing or saying that I care. In fact, I may be more similar to my grandmother in that way than I would like to admit.

I can’t go back in time and make my grandmother someone she wasn’t, or make her see why I was the way I was, or even go back and take that slice of cake and try to make her like me. But what I can take with me is the fact that we’re all weird and strange and wonderful people who show we care in weird and strange and wonderful ways.

This morning, I got a new recipe for cinnamon rolls and I know that I’ll make them. They’ll be delicious. I’ll probably share them. And it’ll mean something. But not everything.

Kitchen Through The Lens: Dutch Baby

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I wasn’t going to do a cooking project this week. I was NOT going to do a cooking project this week. I went to the grocery store Friday afternoon and I didn’t even TAKE A LIST WITH ME DANGIT. I didn’t plan a menu for the week, I had no rhyme or reason to my shopping trip, and I certainly wasn’t going to pick up a ton of ingredients I don’t have on hand already to make something for this project.

Which sounds really grumpy, doesn’t it? I love this project. I love making new stuff. But sometimes you think, “Well… what if I spend $x on super-special ingredient and then I never use it again? THAT WOULD SUCK.”

And then today I felt like garbage and for grins, I googled the recipe for a Dutch baby pancake and behold!

I had all of the ingredients already.

Egg-cellent start to dinner

Butter, milk, eggs, flour, salt, powdered sugar.

The recipe called for whole milk. I can’t tell you when I’ve ever had whole milk in my fridge (you drink it with a fork, right?).

I also added a small dash of almond extract to the batter because really? IT MAKES THINGS YUMMIER.

Puff Baby

A few minutes of mixing stuff, thirty minutes of baking and voila.


This was amazingly easy. Way easier than stupid regular pancakes which are boring.

A squeeze of lemon juice on top, a sprinkling of powdered sugar and this was heavenly.

(The taste actually calls to mind French toast more than an actual pancake, in my opinion)

A slice of puffy pancake happiness

For the littlest kiddo, I also heated up some sausage to serve along with the pancake and it was a perfect night of breakfast for dinner.

The kids were impressed and hey, I still haven’t missed a week of making somethin’ new.

Let’s see what I can wrangle up next week. I’m thinkin’…tacos. Who’s in?

Kitchen Through the Lens: Pesto


I knew this food processor would be fun.

As The Princess said the other day when I started getting the ingredients out to make pesto, “How is this thing any different than a blender, really?”



I kind of figured pesto wasn’t that difficult to make – I mean, shoot, the ingredients are simple: basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese, olive oil and some salt and pepper (this recipe varies slightly from the one I used – in that it uses Pecorino instead of Parmesan, but, the proportions are the same, so… have at it).

Basically, you toss everything into the food processor, pulse it up nice and pretty and BAM. Done.

I’ll never buy store bought pesto again. Store bought pesto tastes oily and gross and just… too salty. I love having the control over what goes in, how much. And as much as I love garlic, I miiiiiight reduce the garlic next go round.


Yes. That red lid is from the parmesan cheese. I didn’t buy fresh parmesan. I went the lazy way and bought the pre-shredded stuff because I can’t find my cheese grater and I wasn’t sure if the processor would process it or if it would leave cheese clumps and cheese clumps, that doesn’t sound yummy. Well, to me anyway.

Now that you have your pesto, what can you do with it? Obviously, you can put it on pasta.

What did I do with it? I made a basic pizza dough (from scratch. This is one of my favorite uses for my breadmaker – if you are inept with yeast doughs, your breadmaker does the whole thing while you sit on the couch and watch the Michigan/Michigan State game). I rolled the dough onto a pizza pan, spread a thin layer of pesto on it (remember that oil in your pesto? You’re not gonna want a ton on your pizza), threw on some mozzarella and some parmesan cheese (there’s already parm in your pesto also, so think of the saltiness factor when you’re adding it to the toppings), and then sprinkled some browned Italian sausage on top of that. Bake until the dough is not gross and the cheese is nice and golden. Voila. Delish.

Hey. I’m totally learning how to cook. Who’d have thought?


Don’t like pizza? Here are some more ideas for what you can make with your pesto – fifty ideas, to be exact.