Kitchen Through the Lens: Where It Is and Where It Will Be

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Just over a year ago, I launched a project. I put together a list of recipes, things I’d always wanted to try to make but hadn’t, as well as things I never thought of making but the internet thought I should. It was a weird point in my life – newly separated, I wanted to create something for myself, something that the kids and I could look forward to. I didn’t know how I was going to cook for our little family of three, or even what I would be cooking for our little family. I wanted to branch out, try new things, and try to learn to love cooking.

Along the way, I wanted to hone my food photography skills as well.

What happened?

Well, cinnamon bread happened. Caipirinhas. Vinaigrettes. Mmmmmmargaritas happened (and then they happened again. And again). Beer braised tacos. Lemon pasta. Cream puffs. Pesto. Beer bread. Patatas bravas.

I haven’t made the whole list yet and I haven’t even made anything new from it in awhile (though, I’ve got infused vodka on the brain – thinking a basil infused vodka, maybe a lemon simple syrup – might be a fun summery drink. I’m making this up as I type this post – oooh! I’m spontaneous).

But the cooking projects along the way became a little expensive – and hey, that may be why I didn’t make some of these things in the first place. I mean, I love hummus and it was fun making it, but I’ve spent more than a few bucks now on a jar of tahini and what the heck else do I do with it (besides make a lot more hummus)?

Not only that, but…

I kind of learned to really enjoy cooking. Part of it was opening up my mind to expand beyond the normal repertoire of things I’d always cooked (and no matter what, the kids won’t let me stop making spaghetti). Part of it was spending time in the kitchen with someone who really loves to cook and learning to see why the process can be enjoyable and finding his joy and discovering that yeah, it’s fun.

Grilled spicy Sriracha burger with crispy shallots and ginger-chili aioli

It’s fun to move around the kitchen cutting and chopping and laughing and knowing that in the end you’re gonna have something like that burger, for example. (The second time we made them, I actually made a homemade bun to accompany it. Wow.)

Circumstances have changed – I’m taking a break from spending a fortune on every new meal I make (that job thang, always gettin’ in my way). Not only that but the girls and I aren’t in that place where we were a year ago. We no longer need to manufacture things to look forward to because life is actually pretty good. Add to that the part where I accidentally learned to like spending time in the kitchen for something other than cheesecake, and well… you can maybe see why this project has dwindled.

But it won’t go away. I’ll finish that list – I mean, I haven’t even made my own sourdough bread yet and I’ve been wanting to try that forever.

So, stay tuned. Don’t go away. There will be more food and more pictures. I promise.


Kitchen Through the Lens: Chipotle Stout Beer Braised Tacos

I think this was the moment where I first felt truly like a success in the kitchen – this dish. This dish made me feel like, Whoa Sarah, you are not just a baker. YOU. CAN. COOK.

It’s silly actually because all I did was follow the directions, and the recipe wasn’t that complicated, but it tastes complicated – and impressive. I made these tacos for someone who is an amazing cook, and when he enjoyed them, I was so pleased with myself. Ridiculously pleased with myself.

Maybe a little bit too much so.


When I was originally looking to make a list of things to cook, I got to item 40 or so on my list and got stumped. Joe from The Hungry Dudes suggested this recipe to me, the Chipotle Stout Beer Braised Beef Tacos. Immediately, I was intrigued.

And since Grand Rapids, Michigan is BEER CITY USA 2013, I surely had enough craft beers at my disposal to use for this recipe.


Originally, I thought I’d use Founders Breakfast Stout.

Only… I waited too long and KBS was bye-bye.


The recipe had suggested a stout with coffee notes… and well, that would have been pretty darn perfect.

I’m fairly beer dumb. I don’t really know a stout from a porter from an IPA. So, I enlisted some of my favorite people – who happen to be VERY beer savvy to recommend a few options.

Ended up with The Poet Oatmeal Stout from New Holland Brewing Company.


Have you cooked with chipotles in adobo sauce before? Yuuuum.

Granted, you only use TWO large peppers from this can, and so… I guess I better come up with other recipes to use ’em, rather than waste the leftovers.

ew, raw meat. tri tip.

Raw meat. That’s… not pretty.

This recipe calls for a tri tip roast — a cut of meat I have never seen in a grocery store. Now granted, I’ve only started looking in the past few months, but when I decided I was really serious about making this recipe and making it soon, I started researching where I could buy a roast in Grand Rapids. Lucked out and found a local store on the first try — while I was there I also picked up some flank steak which I used for The Princess’s birthday dinner yesterday and DANG – amazing. I can’t say I’ll buy ALL my meat there, but for those times it really counts, I surely will. It’s leaner and waaaaaay easier to cook (and eat. I get grossed out with fatty pieces of meat. YUCK).

braised beef

So, you’ve got all the ingredients and you sear that (expensive but lovely) tri tip and then you add beer and beef broth, like up there. While you’re doing that, you’ll want to chop up your onion. Your garlic (the recipe called for six cloves, so… I used nine).

chipotles in adobo

Cut those chipotles in adobo.

Yeah. Those look gross too.

meat is unattractive

Then? Basically, your work with these tacos is DONE. Simmer for about three hours, flipping your roast over each thirty minutes. After the first hour, my house smelled like I’d been cooking with red wine, though I had used stout.

A beery-er person than I could probably tell you why, but all I know is WOW. For the hours this simmered in the cast iron enamel pot on my stove, my house smelled heavenly.

pico de gallo

And then I threw together the pico. I was supposed to have red onion but I bought a white one by mistake. No matter. It was still good. Also? You can double this recipe. You should. Because you’ll probably wish you had more pico. It’s crazy easy. Except the chopping cilantro part. Chopping cilantro is a pain in the ass.

Yeah. I said it.

I need kitchen scissors, I think. Herb cutting scissors.

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This was a total WIN all around.

I cannot think of anything I’d do differently (well, except have more flour tortillas on hand – even when I steam them, I can’t get corn tortillas to cooperate and not fall apart).

Well, scratch that. I’d have gotten it together enough to make margaritas or sangria with these tacos. NOTE: Most sangrias require overnight refrigeration. There will be no spontaneous making of sangria for you. Or anyone. Sheesh, sangria. Why so high maintenance?

Anyway – yeah, you’ll want a nice cold festive beverage to knock the edge off the heat of the tacos. Plan ahead for it. You won’t be sorry.

Make these. Make these. Make these.

(They were good, can’t you tell?)

Kitchen Through The Lens: Key Lime Cheesecake

graham cracker crust

When I originally put key lime cheesecake on my list, I selected a recipe I was sent for a vegan key lime cheesecake but the funniest thing happened.

I remembered I wasn’t vegan.

Also? I like the cream cheese part of cheesecake.

Also? I decided to make this cheesecake as a thank you for the folks who work in my mom’s office for their support – monetary and just general enthusiasm – for my participation in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

So, I made a non vegan recipe.

a graham cracker crumb crust

The kids saw key limes in the store the other day. A one pound bag of key limes? Not too pricey. Cream cheese, on the other hand, kind of is. FYI, I almost always use neufchatel instead of regular cream cheese. I’ve never detected a difference in the quality of cheesecake and because of that, I kinda figure, why not reduce some of the unhealthy where you can?

key limes, i'm not sure what makes you so special?

Dear key limes (and graham cracker crumbs on my counter. Oy).

Not gonna lie, I feel a bit punk’d by the idea of key limes. They’re tiny little lime wannabes that produced very little juice and a whole lotta seeds. And one pound of key limes barely produced the 2/3 cup of key lime juice I needed.

(Later, I found this was okay – I think using the full amount would have made them TOO tart – this was just the right sour)

To juice the key limes with greater ease, I rolled them on the counter first, pressing hard against the lime with the palm of my hand, hoping to kinda squash all that juice out of the pulp.

It sort of worked.


key lime cheesecake

Apparently the difference is that key lime juice is more aromatic and it’s more intense in flavor.

Um. Okay.

The end result (and I only had one bite – I told y’all I was sending this cheesecake elsewhere!) was tasty. It was a nice warm weather kinda cheesecake.

But I’m guessing using regular limes, though far less fancy sounding, woulda been WAY. EASIER.

Kitchen Through The Lens: Orange Juice

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There are certain things I put on my list that I’m not entirely sure why I put them on my list. Vegan keylime cheesecake for example (can I get a judge’s ruling on this one? Need it really be vegan?). Mashed potatoes (I’m not so sorry about that one). And orange juice. Freshly squeezed orange juice.

I guess I wanted to try it for the same reason I don’t use boxed cake mix: why ingest a bunch of garbage when it’s just as easy to do it on your own?

Or, almost as easy.

Or kinda sorta easy but not too miserable and not too messy and not too cost prohibitive.

Blah blah blah.


Making your orange juice isn’t that tough. I have a handy dandy little citrus thingamabobber (not a juicer, but a…thing). Anyway.

I picked Valencias because the sign at the grocery store said they were great for juice. They’re ugly. I almost picked a different orange because they’re really ugly, but I picked the ugly oranges – about four bucks for four pounds of oranges.


Four pounds of oranges produced about three cups of orange juice. That… doesn’t seem like much. So it’s not exactly wallet friendly BUT…

It’s so good!

If I was a little more of an over-achiever, perhaps I’d come up with a better method for straining a bit more of the pulp out – I buy pulp-free when I buy orange juice.

With just the juice from the oranges, I have a sweet and drinkable juice. I didn’t have to add anything. I didn’t have to do anything else. It was fine as is.

Oberon and barbecue chips. All I'm missing from the orange food group is crunchy cheetos and life would be most excellent.

And then we made it better. Put a big ol’ splash of juice in your glass. Pour in some Oberon. Yum.

But not for breakfast. Probably.

Kitchen Through The Lens: Taco Pasta Shells

Originally, the recipe was for Vegan Taco Pasta Shells. While I’m not at all vegetarian, I don’t eat a whole lotta meat so that didn’t present a problem for me – I’m all for adding meatless meals to my cooking repertoire. And then I read the words: vegan sour cream.

Uh… I’ll go meatless, but, y’know… there are limits.

(I’m not judging – vegan, not vegan, whatever. Whatever you choose to eat is for you to worry about. I just couldn’t do vegan sour cream or cheese. I LIKE DAIRY.)

squished tomatoes

So you get some fire roasted tomatoes.

I admit, I made this a few weeks ago. I don’t remember much about the experience.

I left the tomatoes alone even though I hate tomato chunks (Pureed or smushed tomatoes are fine – it’s not the taste of tomatoes, the taste I dig). Some salt.

never enough

Nearly everything is better with garlic.

realllly big shells

Whoa, big shells. How YOU doin’?

(You know, I love me some pasta. I think I want to start putting more stuff in really big shells.)

corn kernels ruin things

Here’s where this recipe totally lost me.

Despite my blatant ignoring of the vegan sour cream and cheese directives, I went ahead and put in the corn just like the recipe said even though I know I don’t like random bits of corn in stuff.

The corn MESSED. THIS. UP.

I’m pretty sure it doesn’t ever help anything to put corn in it.

taco pasta shells

This could have used less corn and more (non vegan) cheese. The flavor was actually pretty decent.

Damn corn.

Oh, and then I forgot the sour cream.

The end.

Kitchen Through the Lens: Fruit Smoothies

blackberry raspberry strawberry

There are probably a gazillion ways to make a fruit smoothie and most of them are gonna yield some beautiful deliciousness. I cannot remember why I included this on the list except that I like taking pictures of fruit and maybe when I was making the list I realized that there was a whole lot of sweet stuff on my list (Hi, would you like some cookies with your cookies?).

I used some nonfat vanilla yogurt for sweetness, a splash of skim milk and then ALL OF THE FRUIT.

how the hell do you cut a mango anyway


she's got the whole mango in her hands

Pumpkin chose mango and pineapple with a few strawberries tossed in.

all the healthy stuff is pretty

I opted for blackberry, raspberry, and strawberry.


Perhaps I should have run it through a sieve after or something.

But still?

Mango berry pineapple


No. I really have no idea why it made the list. Took five minutes and a blender.

Huh. Oh well.

Kitchen Through The Lens: Roast Chicken

lemon and rosemary

I sure do love a roast chicken. I have read how remarkably easy it is to make one and yet had never made one. It seemed a no brainer for my kitchen project – not only could I feed my face some delicious food, but since I was guaranteed to have leftovers, I could extend the number of meals out of one chicken. One whole roasting chicken was to become a dinner of roast chicken, Hasselback potatoes, and a lovely red lettuce salad. And then the chicken was to become chicken enchiladas. And maybe chicken soup. Possibly toppings for salads.

The point is, I had big plans for this chicken.

Also? I had company for dinner and I kinda wanted to make this impressive and delicious meal. I’ve always been the baker, and not a cook.

So I started with a recipe for herb roast chicken from Cooking Light magazine.

Salt, pepper and lemon juice went inside the chicken. I improvised and added a few cloves of garlic (yummmmmmy). The top of the chicken was smeared with a rosemary, thyme, shallot and butter mixture.

thyme-y and rosemary-y and butter-y and salmonella-y

Raw chicken? Abso-freaking-lutely disgusting.

But ooh, this smelled so good.

dear chicken i am so sorry i violated you by shoving a lemon in your nethers

And then I shoved the two lemon halves in the chicken’s “body cavity” and felt I owed the chicken an apology.


I guess I’ll mention right about now that I didn’t actually have a roasting pan. No problem, I thought, I’ll just use this glass 9×13 baking dish! The chicken was certainly small enough, the pan was certainly big enough.

This is the part that gets a little fuzzy.

Fuzzy because this is where I messed up.

The chicken was in the oven, I’m reading over the recipe and I realize I forgot to throw the water in the bottom of the pan like the directions said.

Knowing that the temperature difference between hot and cold and glass dishes is a bad thing, I used hot water.

Opened the oven, poured the water in.


walter white chicken

In retrospect, given that I wasn’t using a roasting pan and the chicken wasn’t on a rack and blah-blah-blah, I could have probably skipped that water step.


So, uh, as you can see. That was about the end of the chicken.

It brought up a whole new series of lessons in this cooking project though –

1. Learn to roll with the punches.
I have had some fun successes with this project. I have had some delicious food and some amazing beverages. I have had a ridiculous amount of fun while trying to make things I’ve never made before. NOT every project is gonna be a success.

Admittedly? I didn’t roll with the punches well here. I berated myself a whole lot, I kinda beat myself up about it, I was really so so very disappointed in myself. Here I am, trying to impress, trying to make an exceptional meal… and I blow up a baking dish and cover my kitchen with glass shards. Um. Yeah. Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m kinda new to this kitchen thing. And who’s to say – the next time I mess up (and surely I’ll mess up again), I may not do any better at letting it not get to me. But… I realize I need to. It wasn’t the end of the world.

2. Sure it’s important to have good cooking gear and use amazing ingredients, but choosing the right dining companions matters just as much.
Anyone else could have mocked me or ridiculed me for this fiasco. Not just anyone would have dubbed this mess Walter White Chicken, been glad I wasn’t hurt by glass, and taken me out for beer and nachos before returning back to my house where he helped me sweep out the glass and scrub the butter from the bottom of my oven and its racks. But despite my inability to cook a chicken (yet!), I had great company in the kitchen.

The beer was great, the nachos were amazing, and my face hurt from smiling (despite the fact that not long before that, my feet were tiptoeing around broken pieces of a blue glass dish).

I think walter white's blue glass is slightly more profitable than mine

Today, I bought a new 9″ x 13″ pan.

I also bought a roasting pan.

I don’t know if I can cross roast chicken off my list yet, but before I exploded everything, it  was smelling really good and so I think I’m heading in the right direction with the recipe. I’m gonna call that my trial run. I will try again. Soon.

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.