Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas! And a hiatus ...

Is it lame for me to come to my blog to announce a hiatus when I haven't been blogging since, oh, October?  I love cooking.  I love looking at new recipes.  I love the challenges that cooking and baking can present and the knowledge that comes after years of kitchen experience.

But I've been working on other projects and for the time being, I just wanted to poke my head in and say hello!  Sorry I've been bastardly about posting lately.  I'll let you all know when I decide to come back. :)

In the meantime - if you're looking for some last minute homemade gifts, these items have been found in the ShelleyBakes kitchen - easy Nutella sea salt fudge and homemade Bailey's Irish Cream.  They are quick and easy.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Freezer Tomato Sauce

Umm ... so I'm going to apologize that this blog post is about, oh ... a month too late?  Although I've heard rumor that the unseasonably warm weather in Minnesota has had some people still picking tomatoes - I made this recipe right after Labor Day weekend when my neighbor had given me carte blanche to raid her cherry tomato bushes.


I found this recipe on Leite's Culinaria, which is one of my favorite food blogs out there.   For those of you still harvesting tomatoes, give it a shot.  And if you're like me and dreaming of next year's bounty, go ahead and bookmark this for next year.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Soups for a Saturday: Crock Pot Turkey White Bean Pumpkin Chili

Earlier I expounded upon how food bloggers are particularly obsessed with pumpkin around this time of year.

After I tried this chili from Gina at Skinnytaste - I think I'm beginning to understand why.

There are no words to explain this chili.  Only that I Facebooked the link on my ShelleyBakes page and that I emailed no more than four people about this particular chili.  And since I used dried beans instead of canned, I actually started eating this soup when the beans were still a little crunchy.

I speaketh much truth ... this chili?  Wow.

My alterations ... like I said - I used dried beans.  No I'm not some dried bean purist who will tell you that there is some mythical difference between canned and dried beans that will result in unicorns prancing upon this earth.

There's a big difference ... there's a difference in time and convenience.  And I do think there's a difference in taste ... I prefer canned chickpeas to ones I've cooked myself, likely because of whatever funky bean liquid they've been bathing in. 

Having said that - I do think that dried beans take up less cupboard real estate in my cupboards than canned beans.  Plus, there's less waste overall (I buy beans from the bulk bins - reducing packaging/carbon footprint/whatever.).



For this recipe, I soaked my beans overnight and picked through them to get rid of any rogue pieces of whatever comes out of bean fields.  I then put in just shy of four cups worth of beans.

Since I put in soaked, but uncooked beans, I upped my chicken broth to four cups instead of two cups.

I also used ground turkey - the hot Italian sausage style, so I omitted the oregano.

Finally - I did not have chopped green chiles, but I did have a can of Rotel (10 oz.).  So I dumped that in, liquid and all.

I served with some cornbread ... and it was goooood.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Low Fat Pumpkin Bread

As sure as leaves fall on the ground during the fall season in Minnesota, the food blogs are full of recipes using pumpkin.  And who can blame them?  I mean - there's something about the warm scents of cinnamon and nutmeg that scream it's time to break out the jeans and sweaters.  And to enjoy the 50 and 60 degree temperatures, because you can pack up all of your shorts and poof!  Eighty degree weather will return for a week in the region.  That, and experience cautions me that we could very well see snow by Halloween.  Because that's Minnesota.

So to celebrate the season, I made this bread from Gina at Skinnytaste, but because I'm contrary and because I keep f-ing up bread recipes, I decided to put it in a Bundt cake pan.  And it is gooood .... it's not *as* good as some of your more traditional pumpkin breads that get some incredible moisture from an asston of vegetable oil, but the pumpkin puree does the trick.



Here are the changes I made:  Bundt pan instead of bread pan; omitted the pepitas, used Penzey's Baking Spice instead of pumpkin pie spice and sprinkled with some powdered sugar for the final product. 

If you decide to bake in a Bundt pan, cut the cooking time down to about 40-45 minutes.

This is actually the second pumpkin bread that I made this season ... the earlier one was from Rebecca at Ezra Pound Cake.  And while this one was good, the streusel decided to go rogue and dropped through the bottom of the bread.  I have no clue what I did.  But my neighbor Bonnie and my husband Ryan (and his D&D friends) did not really seem to care, so this was still a winner.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Twenty years ago ...

I was reminded on Facebook this AM that Nirvana's "Nevermind" came out 20 years ago.  In an instant, I was able to complete the mental math (because 33 minus 20 isn't exactly that difficult ...) and I realize that I was 13 years old and I remember getting a cassette dub of the album - "Nevermind" on one side and some of Pearl Jam's "Ten" on the other.

This album served as an antidote to some of the shenanigans of junior high.  It didn't matter that I wasn't popular, that my mom wouldn't let me wear ripped jeans like I really wanted to, that my friends were geeks like me and that the worst possible situation of all time was pissing off Miss Smith in German class, the music of the Seattle grunge scene went beyond the badassery of bands like Metallica. 

This morning, I've been going back and forth with an college classmate of mine who is in Norway.  His opinion?  Nevermind still sucks - never mind that it was an "awakening" of sorts in American music.  As for me - I remember the awe I felt the first time I heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit."  (Oh yes, I had that deodorant, my friends ...)  I remember the prickles that I had the first time I heard the posthumous release "You Know You're Right" (driving on Interstate 43, just right into Milwaukee ... not a good place to get distracted). 

If "Nevermind" is a shitty album, I embrace my bad taste with glee.  And my 13-year-old self approves.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Good wine article ...

I think I've obsessed a time or two on this blog regarding "A Discovery of Witches" by Deborah Harkness.  (Love, love, LOVE that book.)  And beyond the main character being a hunky vampire (no sparkles, thank you very much), said vampire is a huge wino. 

Perfection?  Perhaps ...

Anyway - the author is also a wine connoisseur (sounds better than wino) and has a blog called "Good Wine Under $20" that I have in my Google Reader.  Today's blog post was about whether to drink reserve wines or just stick with the regular bottling.  And I can appreciate a blogger who goes to the work of researching (i.e. - drinking good wine) in the name of writing a stellar wine article.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The ABC's of me!

One of my favorite frugality blogs featured this post the other day and I thought it would be a fun one to share.

A – Age.  I’m 33

B – Bed Size.  Queen.

C – Chore I dislike.  Dusting ... I have no clue why I don't like to dust, I just don't  I'd rather clean the bathroom.

D – Dogs.  I do not consider myself a dog person - when I was a kid growing up, we always had dogs and I always liked them, but I prefer the stubborn independence of my cat.

E – Essential start to my day.  Talking to said stubborn cat while I'm making lunch for my hubby and copious amounts of coffee.

F – Favorite Colors.  Blue, brown, green and gray.

G – Gold or silver?  Either.

H – Height.  I’m 5’8″.

I – Instruments I play(ed).  Little known fact ... I took several years worth of voice lessons in high school and college and had a vocal scholarship to college.  Having said that, I'm a fair-to-middlin' singer, the kind of voice that's really good for blending and not one to sing solos (which I am PERFECTLY fine with).  Throughout school I played clarinet until I was a junior in high school and I started playing bass clarinet.

J – Job title.  Proposal Manager.

K – Kids.  A four-legged bastard cat.

L – Live.  My husband and I have a house in southeast Minnesota.

M - Money tip I like best.  I'm stealing what Frugal Babe put in her post, because it's simple and good.  "Whatever you earn, spend less."

N – Never plan to…  Never say never ... :).

O – Overnight hospital stays.  Fifth-grade, getting my tonsils and adenoids out.

P - Pet Peeves.  Intolerance and shitty drivers.

Q - Quote from a movie.  "OK Ramblers, let's get rambling."  I'm sure my friend Deb knows what movie that's from.

R – Righty or lefty?  Righty

S - Siblings.  I have an older brother ... we are by no means best friends, but we're fiercely protective of one another and tolerate each other slightly.  I also have a cousin whom I consider to be the sister I was never gifted with.

T - Time I wake up.  My mind starts waking up before 6 a.m., I can usually put off getting up until about 7.

U – Underwear.  Yes please?

V - Vegetables I don’t like.  Raw carrots.

W – What makes me run late.  Me being me.

X – X-rays I’ve had.  Dental and from when I broke my arm in sixth-grade.

Y – Yummy food I make.  I've been known to make some good food from time to time.

Z – Zoo animals I like.  Zoos are stinky, I'm not a big zoo person.

Do you have a blog?  If you do, consider yourself tagged!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Vacation! (Otherwise known as "The beers I drank")

Ryan and I took a short trip up to Lake Superior over the weekend ... here's some highlights.  (Also known as the "beers I drank" because the Duluth/Superior area are blessed with a couple of great microbreweries.)

Thirsty Pagan Brewing was the first spot we hit after checking into our hotel. I found them on the Internet and was lured there with the promise of hand-crafted beers and gourmet pizza.  We were not disappointed with either promise.

This is the Burntwood Black.  I think I could drink this beer every day for the rest of my life. They even use it to make brownies.

Ryan had the North Coast Amber.

Rest assured though - our trip wasn't all beer tasting.  I caught a sunrise on Lake Superior en route to the Barkers Island Farmers Market.


Later, there were ships to be watched in Duluth in Canal Park.

I could watch ships all day ... there is something amazing about seeing a vessel that's about the size of a football field come into this tiny little canal and make its way towards the docks.

But also - there was more beer ... these pictures were taken at Fitger's Brewhouse.




This was my chocolate cherry stout. It was like dessert in a pint.



Ryan went with the El Nino Pale Ale. Very good, very hoppy.
In short, it was a great weekend.  Even if you can see the tan lines from around my sunglasses.

Monday, August 29, 2011

From the wine rack ... Hyatt Vineyards Cab-Merlot

My husband bought me a wine rack for my birthday in July - capable of holding 72 bottles of beautiful, beautiful vino.  I am never going to pretend to be a wine expert, but I am happy to drink what I love and tell others about my finds.

Pre-wine rack, I got an email from Groupon that featured a deal where you spend $25 and get a $75 gift card from Barclay's Wine.  Curious to try Groupon and pretty fond of wine, I figured this was a win-win for me.

And boy was it ... Barclay's has a limited selection, but it had enough red varietals to pique my interest.

The first wine I tried out of my Barclay's stash was Hyatt Vineyards Cab-Merlot - a non-vintage blend hailing from Yakima Valley, Washington.  And wow ... the bottle retails at $18, but given this is a fully-matured blend, I wouldn't blink at the cost.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Name: Hyatt Vineyards – Non-Vintage Cabernet Merlot
Year: Non-Vintage
Particulars: "This Non-Vintage Cabernet/Merlot marks a return to our original practice of assembling this easy-drinking introduction to Hyatt Vineyard's red wines from select lots of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot across several vintages. While the varietal components are 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, the Cabernet is 98% from the 2003 vintage and 2% from Reserve 2001; the Merlot is all 2002. Delicious blackberry flavors and clean, rich finish make this a great match for meats, tomato-based sauces and pure enjoyment." (From vineyard's website.)
Drank: August 2011
Where Purchased: Barclay’s Wine (as part of Groupon offer …). Normally $17.95/bottle (that's minus shipping and handling ... Barclay's has free shipping offers from time to time.)
Notes: This wine needed to breathe before consuming. After it had a chance to breathe, it was very rich, more of a darker flavor, very good.  Special occasion wine.
**Amended note:  On a whim and because I am operating the under the premise that if I find a wine that I like, I will try to find out information about said wine and determine whether I should acquire more of it, I sent an email to the contact information on the vineyard's website.  That afternoon, I had an email from their national sales manager.  This wine is ready to drink NOW and is fully developed.  And the depressing part?  The vineyard is discontinuing this wine, so once it's gone from Barclay's there is no more. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Toasted Israeli Couscous Salad with Grilled Summer Vegetables

I've been working from home since the end of March.  And about a month ago, 100 degree temperatures in the Midwest had me, the cat and my laptop fleeing for the cooler temperatures of the basement.  It was there that I found myself watching Food Network while I was pounding out proposals.

Yeah - it wasn't the most productive couple of days of my life.

Regardless, I got some food inspiration from this exile, including this salad from Bobby Flay.

Toasted Israeli Couscous Salad with Grilled Summer Vegetables


This dish would be particularly good for a potluck - it is damn tasty and it makes a TON of salad. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cavitini

This is another one of my mother-in-law's recipes that gets requested when we head down to Dubuque for a weekend.

What's really awesome about this dish is that it makes a lot of food and it freezes really well.  Which made it a perfect choice when I was getting some casseroles together for my friends Sharon and Joe.  They are expecting their first baby in September and since I live five hours away, this is my way of "being there" when I can't actually be there.


Cavitini

1 lb. of rotini or small shell pasta
1 26 oz. container of pasta sauce (MIL uses Ragu, I used Hunts)
1 16 oz. can of pizza sauce
1 lb. hamburger
1 pkg. pepperoni
2 c. shredded Mozzarella cheese

Boil noodles according to package, leaving off about 2 minutes of cooking time, because this will continue to cook in the oven.  Brown and drain hamburger.  Cut pepperoni into pieces and add to the drained hamburger.  Mix the sauces into meat and add to drained pasta.  Transfer into a 8 x 11 pan and bake covered with foil at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  When there are about 15 minutes left to cook, remove foil and top with cheese.

**If you decide to freeze, follow steps above and instead of baking, freeze.  Thaw out before you intend to cook and then cook according to directions.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Black bean quesadillas and roasted corn ... something-or-other

My husband and I live by the Seneca Food plant in town here and this is the time of year where one of our main routes home is clogged by semi trucks bringing in sweet corn for processing.  Which is great, in theory, talk about seeing where your food comes from.  Except that on some evenings, the air smells like corn.  Which is fine, in theory, until said smell lasts for several days on end.  So as much as I loved sweet corn as a girl and still do to some extent, living near a canning factory makes me a little green around the gills when I'm presented with corn.

Which is what my wonderful neighbor Bonnie did the other day.  A half dozen ears of corn and three fresh onions from her nephew's garden.  (I was pretty psyched about the onions.)  Faced with the prospect of having my kitchen smell like the canning factory, I shucked the corn and brought it out to the great outdoors and the grill. My idea was to make a roasted corn salsa with a bunch of other grilled veggies - tomatoes, onions and peppers.  As this started to come together, I couldn't decide if this was a salsa, a relish or a salad.  So we're just going to call this "roasted corn something-or-other."



You're gonna have to forgive the photo ... this is off the Blackberry, not sure where I put the camera.  Sigh!

For the Black Bean Quesadillas
2 corn tortillas
about 3 T. of 2% Mexican-blend cheese
about 2 T. of black beans

Heat a skillet over high heat and place one corn tortilla on the surface, carefully sprinkle with cheese and beans.  Wait until cheese is getting melty and press the other tortilla on.  Then give it a careful flip.  (And this is usually the part where I get cheese everywhere if I am impatient and do not wait for the cheese to melt.)  Heat the other side until the filling is cooked through.


Roasted Corn Something-or-Other
2 ears sweet corn, husks removed and cooked on the grill
2 red peppers, sliced and roasted on the grill, then diced
1 green pepper, roasted on the grill, then diced
2 large tomatoes, roasted on grill, diced **
1 large onion, halved and roasted on grill, diced
1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
1 T. adobo sauce from chipotle peppers (optional - adds a strong kick of heat)
a couple dashes of hot pepper sauce
salt
Penzey's Adobo Seasoning

**FYI on the tomatoes - you're going to want a firm tomato so you don't get tomato juice all over your grates.


I am probably one of the last people who should be educating the masses on how to grill veggies.  So go here.  And here.  Once these are grilled and given a little chance to cool down, start dicing your grilled and roasted vegetables.  For the corn, take a sharp knife and cut the kernels away from the cob.  (FYI - you can save the cobs to make the base for a corn chowder, if you are so inclined.  Which I will be.)

Chances are good that the corn will cut off in cute, little slabs.  You don't necessarily want this, so go ahead and dig in with your (clean) hands to break them up and incorporate them with the rest of the veggies.  This is also where you'll add some regular cherry tomatoes - which is optional ... I added them for texture and color.  And because I love tomatoes.  Sprinkle liberally with salt and whatever Mexican-esque seasoning you have in the house.  (Plain ol' cumin is a good choice, maybe some chili pepper.)  At this point, the salad would be good as-is, but if you're craving a little heat, we added some adobo sauce from the chipotle pepper can and a little bit of hot pepper sauce. 

We ate ours on the warm side, but this is going to taste fabulous after it's spent some time in the fridge and melding all the tastes together. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Detailed instructions ...

My husband has temporarily left me for a bunch of nerds at Gen Con in Indianapolis.  And God love my husband, he likely loves my cat more than I do at this point, but he seems to forget that the Cat and I were shacking up long before he and I started cohabiting.

Having said that, he has also trained the cat to NOT drink out of the toilet, so I only rolled my eyes a little bit when I found this note taped to the bathroom mirror last night.

Why yes, that's a picture of the Cat hanging in our bathroom ...

Bowls of fresh water are mentioned throughout.  And the last item on the list mandates that the cat needs skritches!  Every day!

Here's the object of my husband's affection.

"I'm stuck with you alone, again?"
Cat is not impressed.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

DIY Iced Coffee: Saving you money and contributing to my caffeine fix

OK - so I'm not the only blogger to be fixated on iced coffee lately.  Ahem, Recipe Girl-Marcus Samuelsson-Ree Drummond.  It must be the heat.  Or maybe we're all fed up with paying through the nose to drink such ice-choked goodness.  At least, that's where I'm coming from.  I love iced coffee as an alternative to hot coffee (obviously) or iced tea.  But when you go to Starbucks (although I lurve you ...) and you pay about $3 for a drink that's more ice than actual substance, you know you'd better find a cheaper vice or figure out a way to do it yourself.  My local Trader Joe's helped me out by devoting an entire end cap to French Roast coffee and their easy-peasy recipe on cold brewing iced coffee.  It's pretty simple:

1 lb. coffee (to quote The Pioneer Woman "the stronger, the better")
2 gallons cold water

Combine the two in a hella-large container and let sit for 8 hours. 

These are my hella-large containers.  The Pioneer Woman had way better equipment than I did.  Just sayin'.
After a Herculean amount of patience and strange looks from your husband wondering why you are "wasting" what looks to be perfectly good coffee - this is where the fun (and the mess) begins.  Take another container and use a fine-mesh strainer to separate your future iced coffee liquid from the used grounds (dregs of former glory?).

I told you this was messy ... Instead of using cheesecloth, I used a coffee filter.  And then I got frustrated and just used my fine mesh strainer sans coffee filter.  Coffee grounds will not kill me ...

And that's basically how you make iced coffee.  After all of this, you will have made 2 gallons of iced coffee that gets diluted even further when you add it to an ice-choked glass.  Two gallons of DIY iced coffee vs. what you would pay at Starbucks or even McDonalds ... that equals some pretty substantial savings.

This is what the finished product looks like.

Ignore the crap in the background ... you'd think that if I went to the trouble of staging a photo, I'd actually move junk from the shelves in the background.  Not necessarily so ...

I took a page from The Pioneer Woman's book (as well as fond memories from my time in Malta and the Thai coffee from Newey's in Mantiowoc) and added a big tablespoon of sweetened condensed milk.  Imagine what this would be like with a little Bailey's or Kahlua.  That, my friends, you cannot get at Starbucks.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Light Lemon Cheesecake Cups

Today I turn 33 years old and I have a weekend full of wonderful memories to mark the occasion.  I am blessed beyond belief when it comes to the amazing people that I have in my life!


And I'm blessed to have found this recipe from Gina's Skinny Recipes.  She has a whole website full of Weight Watchers friendly recipes and one of the things I appreciate most is that she relies on the food itself to really stand out and doesn't clog her recipes with a bunch of artificial ingredients.  This recipe uses a minimal amount of REAL sugar and a tiny amount of flour.  And it's just perfect for summer.  You can find Gina's recipe here - I did not alter a thing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A new favorite sandwich

This blog post has everything to do with getting over past food hatred and the amazing combinations you can discover after drinking too much Riesling.

First off - conquering food hatred.  Pickled beets.  I didn't even try them when I was a kid, the look of them was enough to make me declare that there was NO way that I would EVER like pickled beets.  And my mom didn't argue with me.  I now know that this was her way of keeping pickled beets to herself.  (Smart lady.)

Fast forward over 15 years and a fateful stop at one of the Amish roadside stands near Harmony, Minnesota.  I picked up a plethora of canned goods on my way to see my folks and remembered my mom's love of pickled beets - so I grabbed a jar.  And then I tried them.  And it was one of those life altering experiences that defy conventional powers of description.  So I won't attempt to tell you how wonderful they taste - they just are.  And these days, there is always a jar of pickled beets in my fridge. 

A couple weekends ago, under the influence of some really good Riesling and good times with some friends, I discovered my new favorite sandwich - toasted baguette with some softened goat cheese and pickled beets. 

And it is gooooooooood ...

OK, so wait - before you take off to the hills before getting this recipe because you think that beets taste like dirt, there's one technique I need to impart with you, because I didn't believe it worked until I tried it ... it is rubbing a baguette (or any bread for that matter ...) with pieces of crushed garlic.  I never believed that such a weird technique could impart such flavor, but it really works and is essential if you're toasting up some baguette rounds. 

Anyway - here's how to make my new favorite sandwich ...

French baguette - rubbed with crushed garlic (one clove for each side) and toasted in a 375-degree oven
Goat cheese, about 2 oz., softened and spread on toasted baguette halves
Sliced pickle beets, drained on some paper towels
Fresh cracked black pepper
Arugula or romaine (**Not shown up above)

Toast bread.  After it is out of the oven, spread with goat cheese.  Sprinkle black pepper on top of goat cheese.  Place beet rounds on bread.  Top with other baguette.  Eat, enjoy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tex-Mex Something-Or-Other

The original name of this recipe is Tex-Mex Tabbouleh, but can you have a tabbouleh if you do not use bulgur?  As with all dishes I seem to make, I start with good intentions - but when you're surrounded by idiots in the grocery store and you find yourself in the parking lot having a "doh!" moment because you forgot to pick up the bulgur, but you're not enough of a martyr to go back to said store to be surrounded by idiots, you make do with what you have.  And you make a tabbouleh that's quinoa based, as opposed to the traditional bulgur method.

I found this recipe on the Weight Watchers site.  I wanted to make this because I wanted a healthy salad that incorporates lots of veggies, but doesn't make me feel like I'm eating a ton of lettuce.  (Lettuce and I have a complicated relationship ...)  I also dig a traditional tabbouleh salad (a Middle Eastern influence of cucumber, tomato, lemon juice and mint), so I was intrigued by the idea of a Tex-Mex take on one of my favorites.  Even if I think that cilantro tastes like soap.

Yeah - I'm good for breakfast.

Tex-Mex Tabbouleh
adapted (barely) from WeightWatchers.com

1 c. uncooked quinoa, cooked 
1 cup(s) tomato(es), diced  (eyeball it ... use as many or as few tomatoes as you wish)
1/2 of a medium cucumber, diced  (note - for future attempts at this recipe, I would peel the cuke)    1/3 cup(s) cilantro, leaves, fresh, chopped  
3 Tbsp scallion(s), sliced  
1/2 of a fresh lime, juiced 
2 tsp olive oil, extra-virgin  
salt and pepper, to tasted 
1/2 tsp ground cumin  (again, add according to taste - I used a generous amount of Penzey's Adobo Seasoning)
1 avocado, Haas, diced   

Cook the quinoa according to the directions above (follow the link).  Fluff quinoa with a fork and let cool to room temperature or until just slightly warm.  Meanwhile, in a large serving bowl, combine tomatoes, cucumber, cilantro, scallion, lime juice, oil, salt and cumin.  Add cooled bulgur to bowl; toss to combine. Gently fold in avocado and let stand 10 minutes for flavors to blend.  Serve, or cover and refrigerate up to 6 hours. Let stand at room temperature about 10 minutes before serving. Yields about 2/3 cup per serving.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A moment of introspection ...

I'm not going to say that it was the hardest case I ever covered, I can go years - apparently - without thinking of this particular case that I covered at the tail end of summer 2001 and into fall 2002.  But today, as news of Casey Anthony's acquittal flashes across my computer screen - I think about a 13-month-old boy who drowned in a bathtub after his father left him there.  The dad was surfing porn and downloading music off the Internet, not knowing that his actions would have tragic consequences.

Looking at the two cases is like comparing apples and oranges.  Both are hideous crimes against children, but for the 13-month boy in my case - there was no elaborate cover up.  The efforts of my town's EMTs and police officers tried to unsuccessfully revive the boy.  The father was later convicted and although I don't remember all of the details of his sentence, one of the conditions was to write a letter to his son every year on the anniversary of his death for five years.  That would have ended in 2007 or 2008.

Out of curiosity, I Google'd the name of this former defendant that I had known.  He's still out there (he was only in his early 20s when his son's death had occurred) and the picture on his Facebook are of his two current children.  I cannot say that they are cute - this is going to sound really bitchy, but the girl looks kind of goofy and the baby needs to grow into its face in that way that new babies do.  But I hope that this fellow is now a good father.  I need to believe that people learn ...

Is Casey Anthony guilty?  It has always appeared so to me, but I haven't hung onto her case with the breathless anticipation that 25% of America did.  I am now waiting for the announcement of a tell-all book that will net Casey Anthony a few million dollars and the made-for-TV movie that will star some C-list actress as the party-mom-turned-model-defendant.  (With that long ponytail, I've been finding myself thinking more and more of the Mormon hairstyles on "Big Love."  Seriously, that goes through my head.)

My cynicism when it comes to people like Casey Anthony ... it truly knows no bounds.  I won't even write the snarky thought that went through my head when I saw that my former defendant had sprung two more children from his loins.  (OK - yeah, I will ... I was thankful to see that they looked alive.)

But my cynicism stops when I think about the victims in these cases.  Caylee, a Florida toddler and Logan, a 13-month-old who came from a very tumultuous relationship ... you're in a better place.  The rest of us will remember you with love in our hearts.  And we will continue to shake our heads at the people who brought you here in the first place. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

East Berry Trifle

I'm all about impressing people with my culinary prowess.  I like to bake.  I like trying new recipes.  I can spend hours watching Food Network and obsessing, in detail, over the most minute detail regarding Guy Fieri's hair.  (Confession:  He used to annoy the hell out of me, but I'm kind of falling for his California-foodie/surfer dude schtick.  And his hair doesn't annoy me as much any more.)

But then there are times where it's about, oh, 100 degrees in the shade and I would cheerfully give up beer if it meant that I didn't have to turn on my oven.

And that's where something like this comes in ... it looks kind of elegant, tastes amazing, utilizes convenience ingredients and allows me to keep my beer and a comfortable temperature in my home.  (And if you're looking for something patriotic on the Fourth ... well, strawberries, blueberries AND Cool Whip?  Oh yeah ... symbolic home run all in one.)

 
All ingredients/quantities are approximate.

1 Sara Lee Pound cake, cut into cubes
1 lb. strawberries, sliced
2 c. blueberries
2 T. instant vanilla pudding
1 16 oz container Cool Whip
zest of one lime (this part is totally optional - I was just getting in touch with my inner Giada and wanted to zest something.)

In a large bowl, mix together the Cool Whip, instant pudding and lime zest.  Take a clear glass bowl if you have one, because this is all about showing off the layers ... Put a layer of the cubed pound cake, a layer of berries and a layer of the Cool Whip mixture.  Repeat.  You can garnish this dish with berries, but I'm lazy when it comes to garnish.  Store in fridge until it's time to serve.

And speaking of Cool Whip ...

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Just random thoughts ...

I've been reading a lot lately.  A lot ... and it is good:

Reading "The Mists of Avalon" by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Some magazine columnist had talked about how this book had transformed her life ... kind of like the first time that I discovered the Harry Potter books.  I'm not feeling "transformed" yet, but I've been having this weird sense of deja vu.  And that's when I remembered that one of the cable networks (TNT, I believe?) had adapted this book into a mini-series that I've watched.  And enjoyed.  So ... that works.

I've been OBSESSED with the books of JT Ellison lately ... she writes the Taylor Jackson series of murder mysteries and I've actually exchanged a few tweets with Ms. Ellison.  She's a solid writer.

"True Blood" is back and I just finished the latest book in the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris - "Dead Reckoning."  Although I love the TV series (ahem, Alexander Skarsgard), I'm kind of an ornery purist when it comes to the books and I wish that Alan Ball was a little more faithful to the books.  Then again, he gave me Alex Skarsgard.  I guess I can't be too ungrateful.

I have Steig Larsson's book "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and I want to see if I'll get sucked into that like everyone else in America.  I also have Stephen King's latest story anthology to start reading ...  thank God for the public library. 

So now you know what I've been doing instead of cooking lately. :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Italian Cream Cake ... and an awesome dad

In the minutes before my husband and I were married, my dad and I were hanging out in the basement of our home church - a vintage, little "white church in the valley" sort of place that had been the sight of his own wedding some three-plus decades before.

"I brought this with me," he said, reaching into his pocket and hauling out a white handkerchief. Since I was worried about tripping over my own feet and thankful that I was fitting into my wedding dress, I spared him the withering glance that I had reserved for my family members who were on the verge of tears.  But then he flipped it around and showed me the initial that was embroidered onto the fabric - a large "E" that stood for my late grandpa's last name. 

"Oh dad," I said.  "That is so sweet."  And it was ... this wasn't even his father's handkerchief he was holding, it was my grandpa Stan's - my father's father-in-law.  A huge absence in the group of loved ones that were gathered up above, waiting for the bridesmaids to hustle down the aisle and the appearance of my father and I at the back of the church.

All of the sudden it hit me - although I didn't plan on tearing up, I should likely be prepared in the event that common sense left me and I found myself weeping like a little kid.  I gave dad a panicked look and he sprung into action - bringing me back a paper towel.  I had to grin - we didn't truck with no Kleenex in my family - paper towels, toilet paper and real handkerchiefs were the snot rags of choice.

"I'm ready," I said.  The following is one of my favorite pictures from the day ... my friend Weaver snapped it as my dad and I were waiting to ascend the stairs.



How do you honor an awesome man?  You make him cake.  And not just the kind where you crack open a box of Duncan Hines and faux your way to a good looking cake (although I do have a yen for a good marble cake with the canned chocolate frosting.  It's childhood and comfort food wrapped into a single package.)  So I made the Pioneer Woman's Italian Cream Cake.  And no alterations were needed - I made the recipe as-is and uff da ... it was good.  For Father's Day I made a layer cake, so I could be cool and impressive, but I made this before for a group of co-workers and put it in a regular 9 x 13 cake pan.  I just adjusted the baking time to cook it longer.
This picture is straight off the camera and not really a great example of food photography.  Not that I care too much ... cake is made to be consumed!
I hope that all the fathers I know out there had a wonderful day.  And as for my dad?  There's no one like him in the universe and I'm very glad that he is my dad.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Pizza

I recently got the best email ever from the folks at Pillsbury.  The subject of said email:  "Peanut Butter, Beer & Bacon!"  If you ask me, that's like a trifecta of perfection.  And this sinful confection of chocolate, peanut butter and deliciousness was the prominent recipe in this particular email.

This pic is straight off the Blackberry.  This recipe was too good to stage for better pictures.

A couple notes about this recipe - A) it's infinitely easy.  It's all the good things that can happen when you utilize convenience ingredients and it's one of those recipes that will make people think that you're a rock star.  Or that you must love them very, very much.  (And since I made this for my Urban Family, yes - I love you.  And I love the fact that you eat my cooking so I do not have to truck leftovers home and succumb to temptation.)  B)  The recipe says that it makes 12 servings.  Um, yeah.  If you're looking to be in a carb coma, cut this dish into 12 pieces.  More likely, this can be cut into 24 wedges or stretch it even further by cutting it into squares.

Alterations I made:  The original dish called for using chocolate chip cookie dough. I substituted peanut butter cookie dough (I'm a freak for that). Also, I omitted the additonal fudge topping on the top of the dish (I subscribe to the belief that there is such thing as too much chocolate) and forewent putting peanuts on this dish and used chopped up Reese's Peanut Butter cups instead.  Because there may be such thing as too much chocolate, but there's no such thing as too much peanut butter combined with chocolate.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tortellini Salad

I've waxed ecstatic about the culinary things that I left behind in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.  It still amazes me that after over five years of being gone from the Lakeshore (Manitowoc is located on the western shore of Lake Michigan), that I still dream in detail about things like Newey's Pad Thai, a sub from Fatzo's or the tortellini salad from Maretti's Deli.  Luckily for me, Maretti's is still in existence and they still serve what was my favorite payday lunch - a half sandwich (ham and provolone on crusty white bread with a thick smear of butter) and the tortellini salad.  Maretti's was only located a few blocks from the newsroom and typically on payday, someone would volunteer to drive over and pick up lunch.  Maretti's had other salads - the mozzarella salad is also pretty notable - but there was something about the tortellini ... maybe it was the amount of garlic that they used and subsequently kept my editors away from me.  This salad is magical.  And this is my bastardized attempt to try and capture a little bit of that nostalgia.


Tortellini Salad

2 packages of refrigerated tortellini (I use Trader Joe's Spinach and Cheese Tortellinis)
1 c. basil pesto (You can make your own or use prepared pesto)
1/4 c. pine nuts, toasted
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper, to taste

Prepare the tortellini according to package directions.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Add rest of ingredients and mix gently (don't want to damage the tortellini, y'all ...).  Chill before serving - four to six hours is ideal and will let the flavors meld even better, but overnight is optimal.

So does this taste like Maretti's salad?  It's not an exact replica ... to come close, I think that I would need to add more garlic, but this is a nice approximation and good to bring for potlucks.  And to ward away vampires.

Friday, May 20, 2011

And the winner is ...

My dear friend Anne Polta! 

Here was Anne's "mom" advice that was shared on the ShelleyBakes page on Facebook:

"My favorite mom story? Hm. One of her pieces of advice was 'never buy chicken on Monday.' When I attended Linda's bridal shower several years ago, we were asked to share advice from our mothers, so that's what I shared... and everyone was just screaming with laughter. But guess what... I do not buy chicken on Monday, ever."

Just a little side note ... I've known Anne since I worked as a rookie reporter in Willmar and she is very dear to me.  Not only did she put up with me when I was a young(er) punk, she is also my beloved cat's "godmother" of sorts.  Ten years ago when the Cat came into my life, she's the person I turned to for advice.  She is a great mom to kids of the four-legged variety. :)


AND ... she's a blogger.  You can find her blog "HealthBeat" here.


Thanks to all who commented! I really appreciate it!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A good gift idea ...

I'm sorry that I didn't publish this before Mother's Day, but I was actually trying to surprise my moms this year instead of doing what I usually do.  Which is not keep surprises very well.  Because I'm just verbal and can't keep anything a secret. 

Anyway ... this is a great gift idea for birthdays, upcoming graduation parties or if you just want to surprise someone you love with a gift that's heartfelt and hand-crafted.


These little dainties are made by my dear friend Cathy.  I cannot say enough about my friend Cathy, but if I was going to start, I would tell you that she's an amazing cook/baker and an incredibly talented artist.  She's one of those people that I pinch myself for knowing to make sure that I'm not dreaming of this very cool person who I call friend.  Yeah - I'm pretty fond of her.  
Anyway ... these necklaces represent a recent creation of Cathy's which miniaturizes some of her watercolors so they can be turned into pendants.  


This one's mine ... I just can't get over the colors ...

Here's another one ... Cathy includes a ribbon to wear, as well as a black cord that fastens.  It's good for folks like my mother-in-law who have metal allergies. 

Here's some information about Cathy from the SEMVA Gallery, which is a gallery in Rochester that represents visual artists from southeastern Minnesota.  These necklaces are available at SEMVA for my Minnesota peeps.  Or I can connect you with Cathy - just drop me a note at shelleybakes@gmail.com

And because I really like all of you and because Cathy was generous enough to gift me with an additional necklace - it's giveaway time.  Here's the rules ... leave me a comment on here or on the ShelleyBakes page on Facebook that tells me your favorite "mom" story ... either one that involves you with your momma or a mom moment with one of your kids (four-legged included).  Make sure it's not too cringe inducing, because she might just read this ... :)

In terms of which necklace it is - it's whatever one that Ryan didn't choose to give to his momma.  At press time, I don't know which one he's going to give her ... 

The giveaway ends on Friday, May 20th at 5 p.m. CST.  The winner will be drawn at random.  Likely by my husband.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Better than a milk carton ...

I have been cooking, I swear.  I've made this.  I made this - wasn't too impressed with it, so I'm still tinkering.  I've made this.  That was on Mother's Day when my folks came up ... aside from having to tell them that the title of the recipe included the word "naked," I think they were a hit. 

But I've been busy.  There's a new job to acclimate to.  Stuff to plant.  Heatwaves to endure.  (From high 50s one week to 84 degrees and humidity the next, yeow!)  Wine tastings to attend ...

Ryan and I attended a wine tasting a couple weeks back that supported the Rochester Paws and Claws.  One of my dear friends is very active with the organization and they hosted a wine tasting to raise funds for a capital projects.  They are also selling wine as a part of that effort.

What's that you say?  This cat looks familiar to you?  Some of you have had close encounters with him?  Why YES!  That's our cat!  On a wine label.  (Which is much better than being on a milk carton, but I digress.)

Needless to say - Ryan and I are kind of thrilled to find out cat on a wine bottle.  For my Rochester peeps who would like to be similarly blessed, but without the claws - you can find Fat Cat Merlot at Andy's Liquor.  I got mine at the north location near Whistle Binkies North.  Fat Cat wasn't out at the time, but when I asked the gentleman if there was any in back, he recognized my voice from the frantic phone calls I had made and brought me out some.  So do not fear asking for the Fat Cat.  There's also labels for you dog lovers and white wines for those of you who do not like reds.

In terms of the Cat, he was thinking about a career in modeling, but when I reminded him that he would need to be sociable and nice to people other than his parents, he was content to let this be a one-time thing.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Chocolate Wonderfuls

There is only one thing that is wrong with this recipe ... it is as wonderful as the title proclaims it to be.  And while my friend Paul has willpower, I do not, but I'm OK with that as long as people keep writing and sharing recipes that have wonderful stories such as this one that I found at my friend Lan's blog.


The recipe can be found here.  I substituted walnuts for the pecans, because it is what I had in the house. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Low Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

As I mentioned previously, I've been trying to be "virtuous" lately when it comes to what I've been eating.  But I have to be honest - sometimes all I really want is a cookie.  A hint of salt to balance out the sweet, not too many chips - oatmeal in the batter is good.  Nuts are even better.


In the interest of virtue ... these cookies are OK.  They get the job done in satisfying my sweet tooth and I also appreciate the fact that they are "low fat" but don't contain any funky unpronounceable ingredients.  Would I make them again?  Maybe ... In the meantime, you can find the recipe here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A quick lunch


I have been on vacation this week and am readying myself to start my new job at home.  This involves setting up a home office, getting rid of excess STUFF (how does one accumulate so much stuff?), watching "The Tudors" on Netflix while doing "important" things like going through my email and writing blog posts and getting my house cleaned up before next week's start date.  Because as much as I am a messy marvin, I know that having a messy house will drive me mad if I'm here to witness it.

In interest of trying to eat healthy and because it's just really damn tasty, the above-pictured dish has become a "go-to" in my house.  I was introduced to soba noodles when a friend of ours had my husband and I over for dinner.  Ever since then I have been slightly obsessed with them.  I feel slightly virtuous when I eat them because they allow me my noodle fix, but are buckwheat = healthy. 

There really is no recipe to this, but this is what I've been making and eating lately ...

Soba noodles (cook according to directions on package)

Pan-fried green beans with garlic - trim and cut green beans into bite-sized pieces.  In a large skillet, heat some olive oil and add a clove of garlic, roughly chopped.  Add green beans and saute. 

To this, I add a package of tuna - but you can also add any leftover meat you see fit - or omit altogether. 

When the noodles are done, drain and add to the skillet.  Toss with a little bit of dark sesame oil.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Absence and apologies ...

Here's where I've been ... life is good.

We finally got to meet our niece ... here she is with her uncle learning the intricacies of the Internet and LOL Cats.
And during our trip to Dubuque to meet Sweet Pea, we also got to see this enormous sculpture of "American Gothic."

I recently got a new job.  One of the perks of this is that I get to work from home ... hence I've been working on emptying a spare bedroom to make a home office.  Here the cat is perched on what will eventually be my desk.  He is really, really helpful.  Really.

This past weekend found my friend Anne and I at the Willie Nelson concert in Rochester.  It was awesome.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Morning Kitchen Sink Frittata!

First thought:  I hate snow.  (After about a week of 40 degree weather, we're getting about six inches of snow.  ARGH.)

Second thought:  I really like cheese.  And eggs.  And sauteed vegetables.

So what if ... you combine those things?  Including the odds and ends in your fridge that aren't enough to make a proper recipe.  And the spinach that's about to become a science experiment in your refrigerator?  And those artisan cheese curds that you bought at the Farmers Market that were cool in theory but lack flavor otherwise?

That's how you come up with a Sunday Morning Kitchen Sink Frittata!  The exclamation point is extremely necessary.


This was instinctual, so there are no exact measurements ... just a sense of what would taste good.

Preheat oven to 400.
Grease pie tin, muffin tins or in my case - the scone pan my mama gave me for Christmas.  (I have not actually made scones yet, but I wanted individual servings that I could wrap up and freeze for meals throughout the week.)

Broccoli florets, rough chop (probably about one cup)
Cauliflower florets, rough chop (also about one cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
Button mushrooms, sliced (1/2 package)
Spinach
Salt and pepper

Saute these together in a skillet with olive oil, until the mushrooms are lightly browned.  Wilt in handfuls of spinach (I had about 3/4 package of bagged spinach that I needed to use.)

6 eggs
splash of milk
1 T. dijon mustard (**totally optional)
more salt and pepper

While the veg cooks, whisk together six eggs with a splash of milk, mustard and salt and pepper.  When the vegetables are finished, fold them into the egg mixture.  This is where I added about a handful of the crappy artisan cheese curds I acquired recently. 

Spoon evenly into prepared dish.  Top with cheese - in my case, it was a handful of parmesan and some leftover Swiss cheese I had (about 1/4 c.).  Bake in oven for 25-30 minutes, until top is set and lightly browned. 

Currently, the leftover wedges are cooling on a rack upstairs.  I want to make sure they are totally cool and that the bottoms are not soggy so I can wrap them up individually and freeze them.  I'll let you know how they reheat.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

Nothing says "love" like conversation hearts.  The sugar cookies are my grandma's recipe and the frosting is Alton Brown's Royal Icing.  The rest is pure snark.

And this one was suggested by my husband:


Inspired by this clip ...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cornmeal Pancakes

All I can really say about these are that they are quite tasty, but really not spectacular enough to make a repeat appearance in my kitchen.  Because Ryan loves Bisquick.  And pancakes aren't my favorite breakfast food in the world.

Having said all of this - this is a great, gluten-free alternative to a breakfast classic. 


Cornmeal Pancakes
adapted from The New York Times

1 1/2 cups fine or medium cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk, or more as needed
1 T. vegetable or olive oil, plus more for frying (**It will not surprise anyone that I used ... you guessed it - bacon grease.  I really need to break this habit.)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Blueberries - optional (for me!)
Maple syrup and butter, for serving.

1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Combine the cornmeal, salt and 1 1/2 cups boiling water in a bowl and let it sit until the cornmeal absorbs the water and softens, 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Stir in the milk, a little at a time, until the batter is spreadable but still thick. Stir in oil and the vanilla.
3. Put a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. When a few drops of water dance on its surface, add a thin film of oil and let it become hot. Spoon out the batter, making any size pancakes you like. Cook until bubbles form on the top and burst and the underside is golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes; turn and cook on the other side until golden.  (If you're going to add blueberries, do it after you've put the batter on the griddle.) Serve.

Yield: 4 servings (or two hungry Mahannahs.)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bacon Swiss Meatloaf

Let's have a moment, shall we?  This is where I tell you how much I absolutely, unequivocally ADORE bacon.  I think that I've always liked bacon, but it's only in my adulthood that I realize what a guilty pleasure bacon is.  I mean ... under standard definition - bacon is not good for you.  But oh, it tastes good.  And oh, does it make an ordinary dish feel spectacular.

Last year for my birthday, my friends the Swensons gave me a copy of Taste of Home's "Bacon."  You can only find it on newsstands and its chock full of recipes that feature ... you guessed it, bacon.  On a recent evening, mindful that a little bit of bacon goes a long way - I adapted their Bacon Swiss Meatloaf recipe to be decadent, but a little lighter on my waistline.

Is there anything more beautiful than an end piece of meatloaf?  Why yes - a piece of meatloaf that features bacon.

Bacon Swiss Meatloaf
Adapted from Taste of Home

1 egg
1/4 c. fat-free evaporated milk
1 1/2 c. shredded Swiss cheese, divided
1/2 c. crumbled cooked bacon, divided (I ended up using about 4 slices.)
1/2 c. Progresso Italian-style breadcrumbs (it's what I had on hand ... use whatever you have in your pantry)
1 tsp. garlic powder (to keep the vampires away)
1 1/2 lbs ground turkey

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Take a half sheet pan and spray with baking spray.  (Hint: Next time I'm going to put a baking rack on my cookie sheet to get the meatloaf up off of the pan and out of the grease this recipe produces.)

In a large bowl, combine egg, milk, 1 cup of Swiss cheese, half of the bacon, bread crumbs and garlic powder.  Mix together.  Add ground turkey over the mixture.  While thinking of a recent Ina Garten episode, I ended up using my fork to incorporate all these ingredients together.  (She was saying something about using a fork instead of your hands.  Point A - it keeps your hands cleaner, and point B - it keeps the meat from compacting and making a tougher meatloaf ... or in her case, she was making burgers.  But I digress.)  Dump onto your baking sheet and form it into a loaf-like shape.

Bake, uncovered, for one hour or until the meat is done.  Sprinkle remaining cheese and bacon.  Bake for 3-5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Usually, I eat meatloaf with mashed potatoes.  But as I made this, I had an "oh sh*t" moment when I realized that I only had one potato in the house and not enough green beans to make a proper side dish.  So, I punted and came up with this.  

Shel's Kitchen Sink Rice Pilaf

1/2 c. basmati rice, cooked
1/2 c. wild rice, cooked
2 stalks of celery, sliced
1/4 c. sliced baby carrots
1/4 c. green beans, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 c. water or chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. cooking oil/bacon grease ... whatever

I took my skillet and heated up a teaspoon of bacon grease.  I'd like to tell you that I used bacon grease so I could match the flavors of the meatloaf, but no ... I just keep a jar handy of bacon drippings and use that to cook most of my foods that come from a skillet.  (Decadent!)  Saute garlic in the bacon grease for about a minute, being careful not to burn the garlic.  Add the vegetables, a little bit of salt and saute for about five to seven minutes.  Add rice and water/broth.  Cover skillet and cook on low until the vegetables are tender.  Salt and pepper to taste.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

A few random notes ...

* My friend Cathy has enlightened me on the joys of baking bacon.  Seriously ... I don't know that I'll ever bother using a skillet to make my bacon again.  The slices turn out perfectly crisp and don't curl up like they do in the skillet.  Plus, there's enough drippings left over to satisfy my yen to saute everything in bacon grease and you still get the "cooked bacon" scent in your kitchen.

* Pre-cooking rice.  Wild rice takes forever to cook and I'm not usually patient enough to wait for it to cook, so I don't use it as often as I should.  I've learned though, that you can pre-cook grains like rice and store them in your freezer until you want to use them.  It's very, very handy - I do it with brown rice and wild rice to pare off cooking time during the week.  Basmati rice is one of my favorite, go-to every day rices because it doesn't take a fortune of time to cook.