Perfecting the Oven Fry

Oven fries are normally not a match for “fried” fries. Oven fries are basically “potato strips”, and if you happen to love potatoes in any form, that’s fine. But if you’re craving a healthier version of a French fry (or just don’t want to go through the trouble of preparing a deep fryer), it’s dang hard to find a substitute. I’m working on it.

Monday was the closest I’ve come yet to a perfect oven fry, and I was proud of the result. 

This is the secret that I learned from Deb from Smitten Kitchen: cook the potatoes twice. Once to cook the inside, once to cook the outside. Sort of the opposite of cooking meat, where you sear the outside and then let the inside cook, for potatoes you want to cook the inside until they’re tender, and then crisp the outside. Brilliant!

Here’s what I did: I sliced up two russet potatoes into fries, then soaked them for 30 minutes in a microwave-safe bowl of ice water. (This removes some of the starch which will end up making them crispier). Drain the water and microwave the fries in the bowl for four minutes, tossing after two minutes (this may take longer if you are making a bigger batch of fries). Lay the potatoes out and dry them thoroughly with a tea towel (or paper towel, if that’s all you have).

Toss the fries with a tablespoon of olive oil and salt and spread in an even layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for thirty minutes, tossing potatoes several times. If you like super crispy fries like I do, you may want to bake them even longer.

So here are the “secrets:”

*Soak potatoes in ice cold water

*Pre-cook in microwave

*Dry potatoes completely before baking

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Golden deliciousness.

Savory Tomato Pie

I had pinned a couple tomato pie recipes on Pinterest in anticipation of having hordes of fresh tomatoes this summer. So far…no dice. We have lots of green tomatoes and lots of red tomatoes that were either eaten or had blossom rot. 

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This Roma gets an A+ for effort, though! I stopped watering him months ago when he turned brown, and he still produced two tiny tomatoes. Sorry I gave up on you, buddy!

Fortunately, the Farmer’s Market has plenty of delicious heirloom tomatoes for everyone whose thumb hasn’t quite reached green status (hem, hem). I picked up a few beauties last weekend with a tomato pie in mind for Sunday dinner. 

Make this. Make it now. (She said nicely).

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Savory Tomato Pie

  • 1 pie crust (pre-baked for 10 minutes to prevent a soggy crust)
  • 1-2 large tomatoes 
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 diced jalapeno
  • 1/4 cup pesto
  • 1/2 shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup plain regular or Greek yogurt

First, slice your tomatoes, sprinkle liberally with salt, and let drain, either on paper towel or in a colander.

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Let the tomatoes drain for about 20-30 minutes before piling into a pre-made pie crust that has been baked for about 10 minutes. (To prevent sogginess even more, you can rub a little butter on the bottom of the crust before filling with the tomatoes). Dollop with pesto.

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Sprinkle with onion & jalapeno mixture.

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In a separate bowl, combine cheeses and yogurt. Spread carefully on top of tomato filling.

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Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes and finish under the broiler for even more golden-brown deliciousness.

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This was SO GOOD. I’m not sure why I was surprised it was so good. Heirloom tomatoes, pesto, and cheese? Onions and jalapenos? There is nothing bad in this pie. I half-wished I had made and frozen a dozen of them, but thankfully, tomato season is still upon us with plenty of opportunities left. This tomato pie is next on my list, however. It includes whipped feta and balsamic with raw tomatoes—how could I possibly go wrong?

 

Scenes from the Week

Long time, no see! It was a self-proclaimed “bad wife week,” wherein I did not provide very many healthy, home-cooked meals for dinner. On the plus side, that meant way fewer dishes!

Here are some scenes from my week.

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My friend Emily was gone last weekend and dropped these flowers off for us to enjoy so they wouldn’t go to waste. The kitties loved them as much as I did! They stayed on the kitchen table for about five minutes before I moved them to the top of the bookshelf so Athena and Artemis couldn’t eat them. 

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Dave and I bought all the ingredients to make sushi last weekend including fresh tuna and salmon….but by the time we got home, we were exhausted and decided we didn’t feel like making sushi. (At least we have supplies now!) Instead we made tuna tacos for dinner Sunday night with broiled tuna and salmon, mashed avocado, and roasted corn with black beans. We had roasted brussels sprouts on the side. Delicious dinner!

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I also made some refrigerator pickled vegetables with cucumber slices, carrots, zucchini, radishes, and kohlarabi. They should be ready to eat tonight! I’ve never pickled most of those vegetables before, so I’m anxious to see how they turned out.

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I read an amazing book in one day: Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. It was like a beautiful, haunting fairy tale and one I intend to read again. Four and a half stars from Chel! (I can never give anything five stars, because how would I know it when I found it?)

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My coworker Jessica and I always talk about going out with our significant others. We have been working together almost a year now and finally went out! I made the mistake of thinking Dave was taking me to Maine for dinner (long story), so I had several drinks on an empty stomach which meant I was super fun that night. Jessica’s fiancee Bryan had three of his friends there, and they all liked me a lot. Drunk Chel = fun Chel?

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I decided to volunteer at the humane society in Stevens Point, and I had orientation last Thursday. I stayed after to walk one of the dogs, Kess. Such a sweetheart! I can’t wait to have a dog of my own someday, preferably one that will not try to eat our beloved kitties. 

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I made the best curry the other night. Finally one that wasn’t too spicy for Dave! I used red curry paste, half a can of coconut milk, water, mixed vegetables, tomatoes, chicken and shrimp over brown Basmati rice (cooked in our new rice cooker!). Sooooo good. I topped mine with Greek yogurt after this picture and ate it all in a few minutes because it was so delicious. 

This month has been a little crazy, so this weekend is all about destressing and doing whatever I feel like. That starts with cleaning up a pile of puke, because Artemis just threw up again. So after that I’ll probably go to the store for some wine. Cheers to the weekend!

 

Ravioli Skillet Lasagna

We made it to Friday! Hurray! Let’s cook something quick and easy, like this 30 minute ravioli skillet lasagna.

Who wants to stand around the stove when there are places to go and people to see? (Even if that place is the couch and those people are on Netflix?)

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Ravioli Skillet Lasagna

  • 12 oz frozen or fresh ravioli of your choice (I used a refrigerated caprese blend because…caprese)
  • 1 jar (25 oz) pasta sauce (or you can be cool and make your own sauce like me–all it takes is some crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, lots of herbs, and diced, fresh garlic)
  • 1 pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 1 (15 oz) container ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
  • salt & pepper to taste

**I used a cast iron skillet to make this “lasagna” which always makes Dave nervous. We have umpteen cast iron pans, so he wants me to use them, but then he’s always worried about his babies after I cook in them. Silly guy.**

Spray a 10″ cast iron skillet with nonstick cooking spray and heat over medium-high. Tomatoes are very acidic to cast iron, so this will protect your baby.

Bring the tomato sauce to a simmer in the skillet before adding your ravioli. Let it simmer for a few minutes while you mix together the ricotta, egg, and parmesan cheese. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Dot the thawed spinach over the ravioli-sauce mixture, and spread with the back of a spoon or spatula.

003Spread ricotta over spinach mixture and cook for about ten more minutes. Pop that baby under the broiler in your oven to help it set and get a little brown. Annnnnnd…..done!

(As soon as you’re done cooking, clean & season your pan. No soap!)

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Summer of Firsts

Dave and I have had a lot of firsts this summer, including going target shooting, making poutine, and canning. Last weekend, we pickled five pounds of green beans my parents brought from their garden.

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It was a hot, vinegary process that took most of the afternoon.

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But when we were done, we had 11 pints of pickled green beans and one pint of pickled mushrooms thrown in for good measure.

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We used this recipe, but we added a clove of garlic to each jar and a tablespoon or so of sriracha to the brine. I can’t wait to try them!

One night we scrounged for dinner, so I made myself a veggie quesadilla. My neighbor passed a box of produce over the fence to me last week, so I’ve been using extra veggies in everything.

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The filling for my quesadilla was mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, spinach, and monterey jack cheese.

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I have decided that AB’s grilled cheese method does not work for quesadillas, so I pan fried on both sides to get this perfectly brown and crispy tortilla, served with salsa, guacamole, and plain Greek yogurt.

Another night, we made pizza….of course. We quick-thawed some of our frozen pizza doughs in warm water for the crust.

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One was a veggie pizza with pepperoni marinara cheese.

The wild card was a roasted green bean and salmon pizza with a cream cheese base and lots of dill.

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Both were delicious, but I highly recommend trying a salmon pizza if you haven’t yet. Fish and cheese do go well together…I don’t care what people say.

When I got home from work last night, Dave had made dinner for me!

008He made baked salmon & shrimp pouches with poached eggs and brussels sprouts and a delicious potato and onion tian. It was a beautiful presentation and very well-appreciated by me.

I’ve been having fun the last week planning out our four-year anniversary. Dave and I found a cute little cabin to rent in Door County on the cheap, so I’ve been scouring the internet for fun places to shop and eat while we’re there.

treehouse

treehouse 2

 

Staycations are fun, but it’s been ages since Dave and I went together on a trip alone (I think the last time was to Chicago for our two-year anniversary), and since we spent last anniversary packing moving boxes and eating Subway for dinner, I think we deserve it. 

It’s been a year since my last vacation without Dave, my trip to Alaska. My cousin Amanda posted this picture today of me, Mom, her, and her friend Maggie on our glacier cruise.

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Date Night

Yesterday, Dave and I did something completely new as a couple….we went target shooting. This was one of Dave’s favorite activities growing up with his Dad, and though we’ve talked about the possibility of going since we first met, it didn’t happen until yesterday.

We found a range about twenty five minutes away from our house, Dewey Shooting Range, and they had three different sites set up: a fifty yard site, one hundred, and two hundred.

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The fifty yard site had posts at twelve yards, twenty five, and fifty. My first target was at the twelve yard mark, and my first time shooting went right through the bullseye! I advanced to twenty five and Dave put his on the fifty. He and his Dad had told me stories that Dave beat the state trap shooter when he was only fifteen or sixteen, so I wasn’t surprised that Dave’s target was awesome with clusters all around the bullseye.

004Though I hit the target every time on the twenty five yard post, I kept getting more scared of the butt of the gun hitting me in the face and kept shooting outside the bullseye until I finally had enough for the day.

It was fun trying something new, and Dave was pleased as punch that I went with him, so I definitely think we’ll go back with our friends. 

After a little time reading at home, I got all fancied up, because Dave was taking me on a date!

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We started with cocktail hour at Great Northern Distillery.

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They always have an interesting menu, and I was excited to see a classic: the martini. Though I normally drink gin martinis, Great Northern’s vodka is amazing, so I was eager to give it a try.

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The bartender asked us exactly how we wanted it, and he served me an extra dirty martini with an olive and a house-made pickled mushroom. Deee-licious. We savored our drinks and talked with the owner and bartenders for almost an hour.

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My handsome date:

009We had planned on going to Bamboo House for dinner but decided to try out Tokyo Steakhouse at the bartender’s recommendation instead.

tokyo

We opted to sit at the bar, which is always fun, because you get to see the sushi chef in action. We ordered one of the special rolls right away so we’d have chance to peruse the menu.

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This was the lobster roll and my favorite of the bunch.

We also ordered seaweed salad at my request–one of my favorites!

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Next up was one spicy roll: Spicy Tuna, and two specialty rolls: Chicago and Merry X-Mas.

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The sushi was good, but we weren’t blown away by it. I loved the dollops of different caviar on the Merry X-Mas roll. Though it was infinitely better than our experience at Matsu Ya (Tokyo Steakhouse actually had raw fish on the menu as opposed to cooked), I noticed the the spicy tuna rolls were very similar: unlike a traditional spicy tuna roll with a chunk of fresh tuna wrapped in rice, this tuna was mashed up and mixed in with other ingredients. Kind of disappointing, since spicy tuna is normally my favorite.

I guess Dave and I will just have to get used to the fact that Stevens Point sushi won’t be as good as Green Bay’s and start making our own! (I know I keep saying this, but it’s going to happen sometime). 

We had a lovely time going out together for dinner, as it has become a rare occasion.

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After dinner, we went home to change and then headed over to our friend’s house for a low-key bonfire.

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Great end to a great day.

 

Lately

The best part of last weekend: Beach Day! It’s so nice to have access to a beach just 15-20 minutes away from our house. Girls (and boys) just wanna have sun.PicMonkey CollageOur friend Michelle came to visit for the weekend, and we even got to hang out with our friend Kirsten, which is always fun.

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Yard dice, a bonfire, grilled food, and laughter made for a perfect night.

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Due to a short power loss that tripped the circuit to our chest freezer, dinner was decided for us by the thawed meat. We grilled up bison burgers, jalapeno cheddar bratwurst, green beans, onions, and baked beans. Our friend Kirsten brought a fresh fruit salad and we snacked on hummus & pita chips beforehand. I also grilled corn for the first time this summer, and then we completely forgot to eat it! So. Much. Food.

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Eats this week included pizza, of course. Dave told me his lactose sensitivity is getting worse, but he always seems to want pizza. Maybe it’s a case of wanting what you can’t (shouldn’t?) have?016This was one of my $4.99 Aldi cheese pizzas that I dressed up with sauteed mushrooms, spinach, spring onions, and some grilled corn.

Something I was super excited to make this week: FAJITAS! (Said like Ross from Friends).

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Beef fajita meat from the Market on Strongs with fresh bell peppers and onions and topped with Farmer’s Market tomatoes, guacamole, and sour cream.

And I just happened to have some leftover margaritas from the weekend before, which was the perfect accompaniment.019

 

The best part of the week: A visit from my parents!

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My dad took a staycation this week (his first vacation in four years), and my mom took the day off to come visit me in Point. They were famished when they arrived, so we almost immediately headed to Emy J’s to meet up with our friends Dan and Emily for lunch.

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I love that blue shirt on Dan.

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I ordered the Curried Chicken wrap for the first time, which was really tasty. Apparently Emy J’s knows how to make curry without making it spicy…unlike someone I know. (Points to self).

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We spent the day wandering around downtown, chatting, and enjoying cold Point beer out in our yard. It was a lovely day.

It was another draining week, so Friday night dinner was simple: chicken burgers on pretzel buns and sweet potato fries.

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This Week

Happy first day of August! Quick, do ALL the summer things before it’s over.

Why-I-love-SUMMER

 

I can’t believe we still haven’t grilled sweet corn or eaten watermelon. A trip to the Farmer’s Market this weekend is definitely in order.

Here’s what I’ve been eating this week (with a supreme lack of groceries in the house):

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Shrimp & veggie stir fry with ramen noodles in my favorite spicy peanut sauce. The ramen noodles were a last minute addition, because I thought they would be more fun than my standard brown rice.

The weirdest meal of the week was on my late day (aka, our “scrounge” day): A microwaved sweet potato with salt & pepper topped with cream cheese, crab meat, and salsa.

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Sounds weird, but it was actually pretty good.

We were out of spaghetti again, but I found some leftover orzo in the cupboard and mixed it with shrimp, cooked spinach, lemon juice and pesto for Wednesday’s dinner. (I had a really tiny portion because I polished off the rest of a French baguette that Dave made last weekend. So many carbs this week).

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I always forget how much I like orzo, so I should remember to cook with it more often.

Last night, Dave and I really couldn’t put off going to the grocery store. We were craving veggies like mad and ending up making big dinner salads.

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Green leaf lettuce topped with door county cherry pork tenderloin, roasted broccoli and baby red potatoes, hard boiled eggs, mushroom, and bleu cheese. I didn’t use any dressing, but I did dot my salad with a little Sriracha. The salad was so good and incredibly filling!

And now for my big makeover….

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Before the salon.

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Reading Nineteen Minutes while I wait.

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Redhead!

The color I chose at the salon was Valencia, and I am loving my new ‘do. Because my hair was sort of an ashy blonde to begin with, there’s a lot of different layers of color: it starts out lighter at the top and gets a little darker as it goes down. Because I rarely ever get my hair cut and never get massages, it felt really good to be pampered a little yesterday.

I’m looking forward to a great weekend as our friend Michelle (a natural redhead) is coming to visit. Let’s see if we can knock a few things off our summer bucketlist…

Oh, and here’s a picture of a hedgehog to brighten your day.

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The elusive Miss Marple

Virtual Tea (or Coffee) Date

Well, hello! It’s so good to see you again. I’m having an iced lemongrass oolong, and it’s so refreshing. Can I get you anything?

If we were having a real tea date, I’d tell you that last week was hard. The days ran together, and confusion, pain, and sadness muddled together into a powerful poison that seeped through me. Then I remembered that no matter what I lose, I never lose myself. As my dad told me last night, I’m a piece of tempered steel, and the fire can only make me stronger. So you know what? I’m okay.

If we were having a real tea date, I’d tell you that I’ve decided to dye my hair red. This is a big deal for me, because I’ve been anti-hair dye since the orange and black cheetah hair disaster of 2009. Fortunately my college graduation cap covered up most of it. This time, I’ve decided to splurge and get it done professionally, because I’ve probably only had my hair cut at a salon five or six times in my life, so all the money I’ve saved evens out.

This is the color I picked out.

ChelI hope I like it when it’s all said and done. I was emailing various pictures to my friend Em, my mom, my sister Moriah, and my brother Tyler, and this was pretty much the only one that they all liked. My brother responded with “Yeah! Fire!”

If we were having a real tea date, I’d tell you that my sadness last week culminated in a little retail therapy this week. But I’m still as frugal as always, so it was only a $12 splurge on Boy, Oh Voyage pants at Modcloth’s summer clearance sale.

Pants

I sent a picture to my friend Em who said she loved them. I sent a picture to my sister Moriah who called me five minutes later and said, “Really?” She didn’t remember me ever wearing anything so loud, so clearly she doesn’t remember the disco ball shirt I wore in middle school.sequins

If we were having a real tea date, I’d tell you that I actually wish it would be hot for the next few weeks so my tomatoes would thrive. My parent’s garden looks like a page out of Martha Stewart Magazine with huge, lush plants and nary a weed in sight. All I’ve got left is a few Brussels sprouts, red cabbages, five out of the eight tomatoes we planted, and a pepper plant that hasn’t grown an inch since we got it. I’m thinking about going to the farmer’s market this weekend to get some cucumbers to pickle and pretending they came from my garden.

pickles

I told Dad I’d trade him a jar of dill pickles for a jar of the dilly beans he canned last week. Pickle ALL THE THINGS!

If we were having a real tea date, I’d tell you that I’ve been eating entirely too much bread and cheese the last week (if there is such a thing). There is currently no more cheese in the house, and I’m going to keep it that way until Friday. I sent my friend in Washington a bag of cheese curds, which made me want to eat cheese curds. I ate a whole bag in two days, minus a little help from Dave. Cheese problems….I have them.

*Edited to add: I just remember we have cream cheese at home. It’s not like I sought it out…

cheese curds

If we were having a real tea date, I’d tell you that summer is going too fast. I still have things I want to do before school starts for….other people. I want to have a low country boil, at least one more bonfire, a beach day. I want to make mint juleps with the mint from my garden. And…..GO!