Rebecca's Cooking Journal

salt and pepper

Archive for the ‘where I am’ Category

Onions and Garlic

The next night, I was cooking some onions and garlic in olive oil. It smelled so good. Just as with the salt and pepper the day before, I had an overwhelming “this is going to be so delicious” feeling that got me excited to be cooking.

I need to make sure I enjoy those moments, because that makes cooking fun.

My Pumpkin Cake

It has taken me a week to post this, but never fear: here is my pumpkin cake.

I have never decorated a cake before, so this was quite the undertaking. But actually, it was quite simple. I made two cake mixes and baked them in three rounds. When they were cool, I sliced off the top of two of them and stacked the three together, with frosting in between the layers.

Then I carved the sides off, so it was rounded a bit like a pumpkin. I frosted the sides and top. I used some of the extra cake (from the carving) to insert a little stem. After it sat in the fridge overnight, I frosted another layer so it would be smoother. I think it turned out well! It is a little lopsided, yes, but what pumpkin is ever completely rounded? Besides, it was my first attempt.

Is this to be a Halloween tradition?

I should note that I didn’t eat it. I took it to my ward Halloween party; it was a prize for the pumpkin carving contest. No worries, I had tons of leftover cake from the carving to eat at home!

Train Restaurant, AKA Getting a Picky Eater to Eat

My husband is out of town for a two nights, the first time he’s travelled in a long time, and as he left in the afternoon, as dinner came around I was feeling a bit down. This was not fun! Trying to cook for two (and Raisin often does not like what I cook) does not feel worthwhile. Plus, we had leftovers in the fridge, so I decided the lazy side won out and went for those.

Then I had a brilliant idea. Raisin loves going to a restaurant, and he always orders Mac and Cheese. As soon as I say “restaurant,”  he yells out “I want Mac and Cheese!” So I told my son we were going to a restaurant for dinner. I welcomed him to the restaurant, sat him at the table, handed him a “menu” (really a piece of junk mail that was sitting on the counter) and asked him what he wanted: Mac and Cheese (left over from the other night when we did go to a restaurant) or Chicken Nuggets (other leftovers I had in the freezer for just such a night). He had a big smile as he pretended to read, then said, “Mac and Cheese!” I gave him two crackers to eat while he waited and a cup of milk with a straw, and he happily waited.

Then, out of the blue, Raisin said, “Mommy, it’s a train restaurant!” A few months ago (a year ago?!) we went to a restaurant that did have trains. We sat around a counter and a train “delivered” the food to us. He loved it. So I agreed it was a train restaurant, and got some GeoTrax from the basement. Soon, we had a small, circle track for our battery-operated train. But I wouldn’t turn it on until he took a bit of food!  Repeat for each bite.

I had mentioned that maybe after he ate we could have dessert. After a little while, he asked me for the “menu” again, and then he said, “I want some blueberry yogurt for dessert, please.” I hadn’t even suggested it, and I had been thinking of ice cream, but it was fun to know that for him it was a treat to have yogurt.

I noticed a lot of interesting things about this. I was treating him as if I were a waiter (“Hello, young man. What can I get you today?”) and acting all polite. As a result, instead of demanding as he usually does (“MILK! NOW!”), he mellowed out. “Can I please have some more milk please?” Was it the fact that we were in a restaurant (where he normally is more well behaved since it’s in public) or the fact that I was treating him nicer than I normally do?

At any rate, it made for a fun dinner and it got him to eat more than he would have eaten if I was grouchy as I had been when I was feeling sad that my husband was gone!

Casual Meals

I am very lazy on Friday nights. Sometimes it’s Saturday night. Sometimes it’s other nights. Here’s a list of quick and easy meals for such nights.

  • Frozen Pizza (required ingredients: a frozen pizza)
  • Homemade Pizza (required ingredients: yeast, flour, etc.; cheese and tomato sauce or pesto)
  • Pancakes or Waffles (required ingredients: bisquick, milk , butter, syrup and/or peanut butter)
  • Cheese sandwhiches or quesadillas (required ingredients: bread or tortillas, cheese. Optional: chicken, avocados, sour cream, tomatoes)
  • Pasta with sauce (required ingredient: pasta, preferably the frozen tortellini or ravioli with cheese or chicken; sauce, such as canned alfredo sauce or pesto; alternatively, cream and Parmesan cheese)

What’s your go to lazy meal?  I need more ideas.

What We Ate (September & October)

I haven’t been posting our weekly menus throughout the last few months, but here’s the listing of some of what we’ve been eating. Some repeats, a few weeks where I didn’t keep track at all, and some new recipes. I’m going to try to be better about variety, full balanced meals, and trying new things in November!

  • Grilled grilled chicken quesadillas; lemon spinach
  • French Toast
  • Macaroni and Cheddar
  • (Book club social treats) Congee and Deep-Fried Tarro Root
  • Pumpkin Soup
  • Kraft Macaroni and Cheddar
  • Fetticini Alfredo with Grilled Chicken and Broccoli
  • Cheese Pizza
  • Carrot Soup
  • (company) Ginger Chicken with Almonds; Coconut Rice; Carrots and Ginger; Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • French Toast
  • Ginger chicken and rice
  • Kraft macaroni and cheese dinner
  • meatloaf, mashed potatoes, carmelized carrots
  • Pasta with Pears, Gorgonzola, and Ham
  • Chicken Pot Pie and Buttermilk Biscuits
  • Chicken nuggets; potato wedges; green salad with bacon and cranberry vinaigrette
  • (company) Baked Chicken with Cheese and Apples; Apple Muffins; Green salad with apple slices
  • Chicken quesadillas; smashed potatoes with scallions and bacon; green beans
  • Bean soup
  • Meatloaf; leftover mashed potatoes; frozen corn
  • Onion Tart with mustard and fennel; arugula salad
  • (snack) Bacon and cheese pretzel bites
  • Mustard Chicken; arugula salad with potato wedges

A New Stage of Cooking

Despite the lack of posts on this blog, I have been cooking.

I feel I am entering a new stage of cooking. Up until the past few months, I had to research out recipes and cook them. I had to write things down and plan ahead. In the last few weeks, I’ve been finding I’m more neutral to recipes. I read it and figure it out, and then I put it down and go cook the food, sometimes referring to it and sometimes not. It’s like the recipes are suggestions that I like.

I really like this. I want to be more of an “improvisational” cook, but I’ve always been tied to recipes. I’m feeling another wave of  reading cooking memoirs coming on and I’m looking forward to the recipes in them: not because I’m going to go and cook them ingredient by ingredient, but rather because I want to see what they do and how they arrive so I can likewise adapt in my own kitchen.

I have been cooking lots of the old regular recipes, many of which I’ve mentioned on here. If I posted my “what have I been cooking” list, it would look rather boring and repetitive. But there have been some new recipes and there have been some more “experimental” dinners: meals in which I just tried it and it turned out okay.

I don’t think I’m going to stop cooking by recipes anytime soon. Even with a recipe I get overwhelmed sometimes and feel like “it’s just too hard.” But I like where my cooking is going!

What We Ate (Week ending Aug 22)

This week I’ve taken the fact that my husband is out of town to my advantage by cooking meals with my son specifically for my son. I have lots more to say about Pretend Soup and how much fun it is to cook with my toddler. I plan on cooking some more of the recipes in the coming week.

I also tried something new that I’ve always wanted to try: meatloaf. It was so good. The recipe I made could use improvement, but considering how easy it was to pull together, I’m eager to add this to repertoire. Making a “new” recipe is a “mini-challenge” for the Spice of Life Challenge I’m hosting, so while I do try to a new recipe once a week anyway, at least this time the new recipe was for something I’d always wanted to try. I’ve had this stereotype of meatloaf as a dry, boring thing. I thought it was moist and tasty.


French toast


Surprise Muffins (from Pretend Soup); Zucchini Moons (from Pretend Soup); peanut butter and jelly


Macaroni and Cheddar


Personal pizzas! (from Pretend Soup)




parmesan risotto with peas


meatloaf; baked herb polenta; vegetables

What We Ate (Week ending Aug 15)

I realized something this week. When we have company, I make yummy, special meals. When we don’t have company, I made the same things every. single. week. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The regular fare is cheaper in the long run. But I do have to say I like the new meals the best! I really enjoyed Saturday’s dinner, and the rub was so easy, I’ll do it again.

I also am realizing, as I said yesterday, that I need to be more “experimental” in planning my meals. I tend to stay inside the box, unless, as I said, someone special is coming for dinner.

Other than that, I’ve already forgotten what I meal I made on Friday night. It was ordinary and all, I just don’t remember what I did! LOL!


Grilled steak with parsley butter; pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes and thyme




lunch with family/ [leftovers for dinner]


Chicken Pot Pie Stew and Buttermilk Biscuits


[picnic dinner with family]


I seriously forgot what I made Friday Night. Oops. It was really memorable, apparently.


Chimichurri-rub kabobs; arroz con crema; churros

Experimental Cooking

Our dinner guests the other night asked us if we are “experimental cooks.”

“No way!” I immediately responded. I like to cook recipes. I don’t do anything out of the ordinary. Anything I cook will be common. That’s not “experimental.” Experimental would be using odd ingredients and cooking without recipes: just making dishes up.

I’ve been thinking about that ever since.

I realized that every recipe I cooked Saturday night was brand-new to me, including the churros, which had to be fried in oil. I had “experimented” with three new dishes. And I’d only done so because I thought my husband (whom I consider the cook) would be in the kitchen helping me. I probably wouldn’t have attempted new recipes if I knew he was going to be in the basement fixing the water softener, as he was. I would have been afraid to do so, for some reason.

And yet, I was fine. I cooked new recipes by myself and they were delicious and easy. Now I consider them in my repertoire, and cooking them again won’t be a “challenge.”

So I am an “experimental cook” in that I try new recipes that sound good, even if they are new to me. My husband’s encouragement and implicit faith in my cooking helps me to be more experimental.

As I ponder that little bit of experimentalism, the more I think that such willingness to experiment is part of being a cook. In order to improve, I have to try something new. If my baby hadn’t experimented with walking, he would be crawling still.

My hope is that as I become more comfortable experimenting with new recipes, I’ll also become more comfortable experimenting beyond “new recipes” and into the No-Recipe Improvisation that I’m always so impressed with.

Are you an experimental cook? In what ways do you experiment? What are the best techniques for becoming more experimental and less timid about new foods and recipes?

What We Ate (Two Weeks Ending Aug 8)

What We Ate (Week ending Aug 1)

This week was full of disasters, except for the luncheon I made for my sister. That turned out okay. But, I burned the macaroni and cheddar under the boiler, the tomato separated from the milk in the soup so it was grainy and gross, and I didn’t cook the onions until they were sweet for the soup, so the crunchy onions ruined the overall flavor of the chicken pot pie stew. Overall, not such a great week. The chicken cordon bleu was okay, but not an all-around winner.

Sunday: [leftovers]

Monday: Birthday luncheon for my sister: chicken fettuccine alfredo; grilled chicken salad with maple vinegar dressing; fresh baked bread via breadmaker

Tuesday: Macaroni and cheddar

Wednesday: [leftovers]

Thursday: Cream of tomato soup with cheddar biscuits

Friday: Chicken pot pie stew and buttermilk biscuits

Saturday: Chicken cordon bleu; green salad with vinaigrette; mashed potatoes

What We Ate (Week ending Aug 8 )

This week was low-key and busy, so I didn’t make many interesting things. The braised chicken was actually made on Wednesday, but the shallots were still onion-y and dish was practically inedible. It fared much better by sitting in the fridge for a day; we ate it on Thursday. It was much better, and I intend to redo that recipe in a slightly different way next time. When it’s good the first day, I’ll share it with you.

My brother got married this weekend, so we were away from home Friday night and Saturday morning. When we returned Saturday afternoon, the low-key soup was just right.

Sunday: [leftovers]

Monday: French toast

Tuesday: Parmesan risotto with peas

Wednesday: [leftovers]

Thursday: Braised chicken in mustard with garlic and mascarpone, rice, vegetables

Friday: [Dinner with family]

Saturday: [Wedding luncheon with family]; Dinner: Carrot Ginger Soup

You’ll note I don’t provide pictures of the food I cook. I’m not a professional food photographer, and I find that many pictures of home-cooked dinners look pretty awful when done by amateurs. Besides, many of these meals look pretty unappetizing when I prepared them, even without taking a picture of them. Nonetheless, they are tasty to me.