Archive for December, 2010


Week 39 - Monkey Brains

For those of you who have been keeping up with the Cooking Goal I set for myself this year, last week marked the end of the journey. I set out at the beginning of this year to wean myself off of the convenience of frozen, pre-packaged and “just add boiling water” foods. College was behind me, and it was time to grow into a mature culinary expert. I figured that with 52 weeks in a year, I could find time each week to make a new recipe and add to my repertoire. After adjusting the goal to make 52 recipes this year, I pushed onward to the finish line.

When I started cooking, I quickly realized that I was under-equipped for the task. And yet, it was a little bit fun trying to “MacGuyver” together solutions in the middle of preparing a recipe. Needless to say, the bi-weekly “20% off one item” coupon from Bed, Bath & Beyond that arrived in the mail was used almost immediately each time it arrived. But as I progressed, I found that I reached a point where I was anticipating what I would need. Or, in the case of the KitchenAid standing mixer, something that I thought would be really cool to have.

An unintended benefit of cooking ended up being the dinner parties. When I found that most recipes made 8 servings, and I really didn’t want to eat something for 8 straight days, the solution became obvious. I’ve always felt that food is the great uniting medium. There’s nothing better than gathering around the kitchen table with some home cooked meal and just talking. Talking without our mouths full of food, that is. Through inviting people over to my apartment for dinner, I really got a chance to know them better than I already did. I’m OK at large social functions, but I find that the intimate, small group get-togethers are far more meaningful when everyone isn’t trying to socialize with everyone else.

New York Cheesecake

Week 13 - New York Cheesecake

Then it happened. I started getting really ambitious. About 13 weeks in, I found a spring-form pan at a local thrift store. I thought to myself, “Hey, a spring-form pan! I know what I can make with that!” And that’s when the New York Cheesecake appeared. By that time, I had figured out that cooking wasn’t anything more difficult than civil engineering. I mean, you start with your raw building materials; process them through cutting, heating and mixing; form the materials together; and bake for 30 minutes at 350°. Voila! Instant building . . . I mean dinner. I figured that with some of the recipes, I wouldn’t know how difficult they were until I tried making them for myself. Surprisingly enough, I think every complicated recipe I made ended up turning out. The irony is that some of the simplest recipes (like cookies and Jell-O) were complete failures. Now that I have found myself capable of these complex culinary creations, they’ve lost some of their mysticism. I always thought, “Oh, that’s such a difficult recipe, I could never make something like that.” And then I did. Of course, one wonders if the difficult recipes are worth it, but when you take the first bite and your only reaction is to sigh in ecstasy, you know it was all worth it.

Of the 52 things that I made this year (well . . . 53, but those chocolate chip cookies were after I made the final recipe), I found that they fell into two distinct categories: main dishes and desserts. There were a few that didn’t fit in those categories, but they were in the minority. I think the reason for this dichotomy of recipes was due to the fact that I usually had small groups of people eating the finished product. If I was cooking for a bigger crowd, or making more elaborate, multi-course meals, I probably would have delved into the side dishes and vegetables, but as it was, I stuck to the important stuff. I also found that I ended up making more recipes from the family cookbook, than from the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook. I figured that if I had eaten it before, I knew how it should turn out, and thus would be able to tell if I succeeded or failed with a recipe. And yet, the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook was useful to learn some of the tricks and techniques to make recipes better.

Week 33 - Baked Italian

Probably my proudest moments of the year, with the exceptions of successfully pulling off recipes like New York Cheesecake, Harvest Pie, and Chicken Cordon Bleu, was the fact that I started making my own recipes. Well, more accurately, my own variations on recipes. About 2/3 of my way through the goal, I realized something. Some of the recipes I made ended up being very similar to each other. These ended up contributing to the two “fusion recipes” which were recipes that I had combined from two similar recipes. The greatest success of the fusion recipes was my Baked Italian. It took the greatest attributes of both recipes and fused them together in one ultimate dish. Now, Pork Chops and Texas Potatoes still needs a little work, but I think that I have a good baseline to develop from.

OK, now it’s time for the mushy, gooey part. No, not the undercooked chocolate cake. With as much time as I spent in the kitchen this year, and the chances I had to create social gatherings, as well as participate in them with my food, I began to do some thinking. What makes a meal “home cooked”? Is it merely a meal that isn’t store-bought? Is it a meal that could be classified as “comfort food”? Is it a warm meal? I felt that none of those questions gave a good sense of what “home cooked” really meant. I think this is one of those transitions that silently take place as we grow older.

When you’re growing up, you’ve always got mom’s cooking, and it’s that cooking that you would classify as “home cooking”. And yet, when does your own cooking become “home cooking”? Does it reach that stage when you’re married? When you have kids of your own? When they deem your cooking as “home cooking?” After much thought on the subject, I think I may have arrived at an answer: “home cooking” is food that is lovingly prepared that you share with those whom you love. With the rushed society that we live in today, wouldn’t an occasional home cooked meal help relieve the stress of our lives? How often do we go about the process of living, without letting those who we really care about know how we feel about them? The dinner may be burnt, or the dessert a sloppy mess, but with love, the true meaning of the meal gets across.

Week 52 - Chicken Cordon Bleu

All right, that’s enough philosophizing for now. Below is a list of the recipes that I made this year. After the name of each recipe, there are two markings. Within the brackets [], is which cookbook I made the recipe from: W = The Weilert Family Cookbook, 2nd Edition / A = The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook / F= Fusion recipe / X = No cookbook was used. In parentheses () is the type of the recipe that I cooked: M = Main Dish / D = Dessert / B= Breakfast / O = Other (these are the side dishes, and other recipes I couldn’t easily categorize).

1.       Quick Tomato Sauce [A] (M)
2.       Bavarian Potato Chowder [W] (M)
3.       Zucchini Garden Chowder [W] (M)
4.       Creamy Stovetop Mac ‘n’ Cheese [A] (M)
5.       Cheese Omelet [A] (B)
6.       Italian Sausage Soup [W] (M)
7.       Chicken Pizzaiola [A] (M)
8.       Banana Bread [A] (O)
9.       Scrambled Eggs [A] (B)
10.   Chocolate Dream Dessert [W] (D)
11.   Sugar Cookies [A] (D)
12.   Casserole Italian [W] (M)
13.   New York Cheesecake [A] (D)
14.   Crispy Chicken Parmesan [A] (M)
15.   Bavarian Apple Torte [W] (D)
16.   Pork Chops & Potatoes [W] (M)
17.   Kuchen [W] (B)
18.   Chicken Enchiladas [W] (M)
19.   Potluck Pan Rolls [W] (O)
20.   Lasagna Casserole [W] (M)
21.   Texas Potatoes [W] (O)
22.   Hungarian Goulash [W] (M)
23.   Emergency Chocolate Cake [A] (D)
24.   Lemonade Drop Cookies [W] (D)
25.   Fiesta Casserole [A] (M)
26.   Fried Eggs [A] (B)
27.   Baked Ziti with Tomatoes and Mozzarella [A] (M)
28.   Cherry Cheese Packet [W] (B)
29.   Deviled Steak Cubes [X] (M)
30.   Country Apple Cranberry Dessert [W] (D)
31.   Chocolate Sheet Cake [W] (D)
32.   Strawberry and Cream Squares [W] (D)
33.   Baked Italian [F] (M)
34.   Baked Macaroni and Cheese [A] (M)
35.   French Toast Casserole [W] (B)
36.   Lemon Bars [W] (D)
37.   Beef Tortilla Casserole [A] (M)
38.   Chicken and Rice Casserole [X] (M)
39.   Monkey Brains [W] (D)
40.   All American Meatloaf [A] (M)
41.   One Dish Breakfast [W] (B)
42.   Pork Chops & Texas Potatoes [F] (M)
43.   Rhubarb Cobbler [W] (D)
44.   Chili [X] (M)
45.   Tenderloin Parmigana [W] (M)
46.   Easy Day Casserole [X] (M)
47.   Taco Soup [X] (M)
48.   Cranberry Cake [W] (D)
49.   Harvest Pie [W] (D)
50.   “Great Pumpkin” Cookies [W] (D)
51.   Cinnamon Apple Salad [W] (O)
52.   Chicken Cordon Bleu [A] (M)

So, after a year’s worth of cooking, I’ve met my goal. A reasonable goal with a reasonable challenge. I’ve learned a lot, not only about cooking and baking, but about myself as well. I’ve found a few recipes that I’ve already come to love and have made multiple times (Fiesta Casserole, Taco Soup, Easy Day Casserole, etc.). There’s nothing more to say at this point but, Bon Apetit!



I realize that this blog has been quiet for the last month, so here’s an explanation as to why. This November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short). During the course of the year, I pulled out my previous works of writing, dusted them off, touched them up a bit and put them up on this blog. Some of them were terrible, but others had some merit that I started to work into my outline for the novel I would write. When I started outlining in February, I never knew that by November I would have 35 pages of notes to go by. This made the challenge of writing 50,000 words a little less daunting. However, even with all the preparation, it takes a certain level of dedication to actually sit down every day and write. I came across multiple distractions, not the least of which was the Thanksgiving holiday. And yet, I powered through and made it to the 50,000 words, and then some.

When the month started, I had a lot of things to deal with. I had just moved into my new apartment a few days before, and to top everything off, my computer pretty much up and died on me. So on top of writing nearly 2,000 words a day, I had to get unpacked and settled, buy a new computer (which is pretty great, by the way), plus go to work and complete any other daily tasks that I needed to do. As the month progressed, I noticed that a lot of my routine did not change, and that writing took up a lot of the free time that I was doing other, non-essential activities. Still, I did have to give up a few things in order to keep focused.

The end of the month was a bittersweet time, because I had risen to the occasion, but also because the work was still unfinished. This novel, First Name Basis, met the challenge of the word-count and the time restriction, but it is far from complete. By December 1st, I still had two chapters of plot left to complete, not to mention that a lot of the writing was rushed and of poor quality. I’m keeping the momentum I had at the end of November to finish writing out the plot of the novel, but even with the completion of the story, the novel will need many edits to get it to my liking.

During the month, I kept track of a lot of what I was feeling while writing the novel. I had never done anything like this before, so I wanted to chart how I would progress through the 30 days. The following section is a compilation of all the thoughts I had while writing. Looking back through them, I could see the endless optimism of the first week, the wall and distractions of the second week, the second wind of the third week and the final push of the fourth week. So, for your reading pleasure, I present you with my NaNoWriMo experience:

Stats of my writing


Day 1 ‎(1,765) – Midnight. I opened up a blank Word document, put the title in the header and immediately came across the first problem. Blank page. 50,000 words to go. Now what?

Day 2 (3,444) – A little ahead of the pace, but was glad to have found a natural stopping place between scenes. Almost done with the first chapter and is finally getting into the groove of giving birth to this baby.

Day 3 (5,307) – Finding that re-burning my music is giving me something to listen to while I write. Classical Masterpieces of the Millennium was definitely a good place to start. Now I’m 3 days in and done with Chapter 1. On to Chapter 2 tomorrow!

Day 4 ‎(7,062) – Glad for a three day weekend to make some serious headway on the novel, finish unpacking, and take care of all the stuff that goes with settling into a new apartment. At least it’ll be easier than my character’s adventure on the moon.

Day 5 (9,152) – A very productive day today. Almost entirely unpacked and re-organized. Also loving how natural it is to write this novel. It’s almost as if I’ve known the characters for years and am merely watching in on their adventure. Chapter 2 almost complete.

Day 6 ‎(11,337) – I’m certainly glad for an extra hour of sleep, considering I put off my writing all day. At least now I have salvaged the files I needed from the old computer, arrived at a mere 5 recipes left until my cooking goal is reached, finished organizing my apartment and started on the arduous task of re-ripping all my music.

Day 7 ‎(13,497) – Encountered my first day of “distractions”. I meant to do a lot more writing today than I did. Or at least earlier in the day than I did. I think I should have stayed up and finished Chapter 2 last night, because that transition to a new chapter after having to wrap one up is a killer. Chapter 2 is now finished, and Chapter 3 is well on its merry little way.

Day 8 (15,212) – I should really write my quota for the day before going to the Monday write-ins. I end up spending more time socializing than writing, and the writing I do happen to accomplish is lacking in quality.

Day 9 ‎(17,180) – An excellent night of writing. Killed off a minor character in a very emotional scene. Didn’t know I could write like that. Writing the novel is still fun, because it’s like I’m reading it for the first time . . . which is true, I guess. I just hope it keeps my interest like it has.

Day 10 ‎(19,012) – Definitely glad that I get Veteran’s Day off tomorrow. Time to buckle down and crank out another chapter . . . after I finish the current one that is. The parallel storylines yesterday definitely turned out well, but it turned my characters deeply emotional and serious, which was appropriate for the events that transpired, but I need to pull it up into a happy ending soon before it gets too gloomy.

Day 11 ‎(20,705) – Ugh. Thursday was like a teaser trailer for the weekend. Now it’s time for a Monday, Wednesday and Friday all rolled into one.

Day 12 ‎(22,753) – At first I thought I wouldn’t have enough material to fill the 50,000 words, but now seeing that it took 6 days to finish chapter 3 (that’s about 12,000 words – almost a quarter of the novel) and that chapter 4 has even more plot involved, I may be looking at two 50,000 word novels by the end of November. Luckily, I have the perfect spot to split the book into two novels, so I just hope I get to 50,000 words by that splitting point. I have about 9 months worth of thoughts for this novel, the question now is whether or not I can stay un-distracted for the rest of the month and actually pull off the 100,000 words.

Day 13 (24,290) – Started chapter 4 today, but the distractions are worse than ever. Time to embrace them for the afternoon and go out hiking with friends.

Day 14 (26,074) – Somehow made it past the half-way point, but am still struggling with writing this thing. I know what needs to happen, and I know how I want it to happen, but I still have that editor in the back of my head telling me that it’s tripe. I just need to power through long enough to finish, because it’s all downhill from here.

Day 15 ‎(27,833) – The problem with being a little bit ahead of the writing curve is that I have the temptation to slack off for a night. I know that if I do that, I am doomed to never finish the novel. Better to stay ahead than to ever get behind. At the very least, I have figured out a very clever way to name some important items . . . which unfortunately meant that I inadvertently made a reference to the University of Alabama . . .

Day 16 ‎(29,779) – I found that I was easily able to hit my word-count goal today due to the fact that I had large sections of description, instead of that pesky dialogue that has been constantly cropping up from time to time. Or maybe I was just more inspired today . . .

Day 17 ‎(32,300) – My best writing day to date. Most words written and a very obvious chain of events to flesh out in the next few days. All that and I managed to make enough food so that the leftovers might actually last me until I leave for Thanksgiving. I’m really pushing to complete the entirety of my plot by the end of November, which at this point is going to be well over 50,000 words. Thank goodness I’ve got a three day weekend coming up.

Day 18 ‎(34,423) – I delight in the irony that one of the distractions I have recently picked up is reading through PHD Comics from the very beginning. Ironic because not only is it about procrastination, but because this novel will be the longest piece of literature I have ever written, comparable in size to a Doctoral Thesis (currently at 67 pages). At the very least, I have managed to work in the following words into my novel, all in correct context: “surreptitiously”, “accoutrement”, “triumvirate” and “Pythagorean”. Another web comic that I picked up recently and read through in its entirety was Cyanide and Happiness. Just one more distraction.

Day 19 (38,070) – Powered through and finished Chapter 4. Was pleased to find some humorous bits find their way into the chapter. The day is still young, time to start Chapter 5.

Day 20 ‎(41,629) – Wrote the entirety of Chapter 5 today. I knew from the start that it was going to be one of the shorter chapters. Actually, I was kind of thinking that it would be the split between the two books, but now it looks like it’s merely the gateway to the final chapters and the epic climax. Next up, Chapter 6.

Day 21 (41,986) – I really want to finish this story and not just hit the (now) easily attainable 50K word-count.

Day 22 ‎(42,769) – Whoever thought it would be a great idea to write a novel during November obviously did not have any family or friends to celebrate Thanksgiving with. After the day with no writing done because I was at church almost the entire day, I just hope that I can find some brief respites to get in some words before the end of the month arrives. Won’t finish the plot, but will finish the wordcount. I mean, come on! October would have been much better . . .

Day 23 ‎(43,156) – So it seems that OpenOffice is a lot more generous on its wordcount than Microsoft Word is. On the order of about 1,000 words. *sigh* I’d probably better go with the lower value just to be safe.

Day 24 ‎(45,003) – No longer ahead of schedule, just -on- schedule. At any rate, [Thanksgiving] was worth it.

Day 27 ‎(47,407) – Finally finished Chapter 6 which was the most serious of all the chapters. Now it’s time for bed. Chapter 7 will just have to wait until tomorrow.

Day 29 (50,018) – Done! Complete! Finished! Well . . . with the required wordcount that is. About half-way through the plot for Chapter 7. Another week or so of writing and I might actually be finished with my first draft of First Name Basis. At the very least, I can enjoy writing the novel again, now that the deadline / goal of 50,000 words has been accomplished.

Day 30 (54,000) – Weighing in at an impressive 89 pages and 7 complete chapters, I am now officially done with NaNoWriMo 2010. The purple champagne definitely tasted like victory.