Tangy AAA (Apricot-Apple Cider-Applesauce) Crockpot Pork* (*or Chicken)

We meet again! I am realizing it’s so easy to get sidetracked from writing and then it’s a slippery slope – if you miss one day, you don’t mind missing two, then a whole weekend goes by…plus I’ve been dealing with some health things and my sister was in the hospital for 3 1/2 weeks (she’s home now, yay!), so my mind has been everywhere but the blog.

I am going to post some recipes for comfort food because I think we could all use it right now: we’ve been having crazy rain here in SoCal (but it brought us out of our 5-year drought finally, hurray!) and everything on the news is scary, so we could all use a little extra warmth and coziness in our bowls and in our bellies, right?

This is the recipe I submitted along with my interview for Cooking Light Magazine last year – it was actually inspired by my best friend, Mary. She and I were on the phone one night and naturally, I asked what she’d made for dinner. What she told me sounded AWESOME: “Pork roast in the Crockpot, with applesauce and dried apricots.”

I mean, “pork chops and applesauce” is a classic combo…so of course, I had to tinker with it and add just a little more tang and savoriness – because I like the tart, and she sometimes goes more for sweet. (And I think that’s probably a good metaphor for our friendship, too!)

Tangy AAA (Applesauce/Apple Cider Vinegar/Apricot) Crockpot Pork*

*or Chicken

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My Cooking Light Facebook Live Video!

I did it! Here’s the video, in full: Tuscan Chicken with White Beans and Kale

It is kind of long, 26 minutes – but we were cooking in real time! The recipe says 22 minutes, but I don’t think that accounts for chopping the veggies. It’s probably closer to 45 minutes from start to finish, depending on your knife skills.

Visiting the Time, Inc. test kitchens was so much fun! I wish I could spend all day playing in them and testing out new recipes – they have such a cool job! The kitchens are enormous and I could probably fit my whole studio apartment inside. 

I actually did most of the food prep, washed and chopped the veggies, and one of the other editors did all the opening of the cans and measured the liquids out into bowls for me. We wheeled them on a trolley into the studio – we did film it in a TV studio, where the counter had a working stove, but I’m pretty sure the stove behind me was just for show.

In some ways, the live shoot was not at all what I expected. Everyone was very nice and welcoming to my mom and me, and Ann Pittman, the executive editor at Cooking Light, introduced herself while I was prepping. She was all ready to just introduce me on the video and then let me take the lead, but since this is kiiiinda my first rodeo, I asked her if she could ask me questions and lead the conversation so I could chime in while cooking, but not lose the rhythm. Luckily, she was happy to do so, because she’s done a lot more of these videos than I have!

Of course, there were some technical difficulties we had to roll with when going live, too:

  • I didn’t do the mise en place myself, and didn’t think to look at what was placed where beforehand. That’s how I ended up putting the white wine in the pan instead of the oil! The oil was all the way across the counter, in front of Ann.
  • Then the pan was actually too small (again, it was what was set out for us) so looking back, maybe we should’ve only tried 3 of the chicken breasts. But the recipe called for 4, so I did them. Crowding the pan means that the chicken breasts don’t get to brown as nicely, though, and when you’re using something as lean as a boneless skinless chicken breast (it is “Cooking LIGHT,” after all), you want to brown it well to keep in those juices  – that’s where the flavor comes from.
  • Then I had the pan temperature up pretty high – which you definitely should do when browning! – but the oil spit at me and burned my hand! The tongs weren’t cooperating, either, and the chicken breasts kept sliding out of reach.
  • I know they say to never read the comments, but I did notice one person make fun of me for my knife skills! Rude! I was actually trying to be cognizant of how loud the chopping of the carrots would be on the wooden cutting board because they placed a lapel mic right inside my apron. (Leave it to me, who worked in TV, to think of the production values over the chopping technique…) I was purposely moving slowly and quietly so you wouldn’t hear a CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP noise overtake our conversation. I thought it worked okay, but can’t please everyone!

When we went live, it was a little surreal – I’m not afraid of being on camera at all, but I was hyper-aware of coming off as too goofy or talking too much (or too little)! Overall, it definitely didn’t feel as long as it actually took. The CL editors and social media team were really pleased with how it turned out – no major complaints from viewers, and I did appear comfortable and not too awkward on camera, which I guess is the best you can ask for!

After the broadcast, the managing editor, Cindy Hatch, took us around the rest of the test kitchens, studios, and offices for a longer tour. We saw some Coastal Living and Real Simple magazine recipes tested out, and a print ad being photographed using FAKE ice cream! It was real fondant, like bakers use on wedding cakes, but it was fun to see the food stylist grab it with the ice cream scoop and shape it into the perfect-looking mound of ice cream – so perfect that it’ll never melt! There are so many projects going on at once. We got to see the layout of next month’s issue – all about breakfast, which I look forward to picking up, and met the EIC and some more of the writing staff. I should be getting a little swag package soon of Cooking Light cookbooks and an apron, so I’ll have more new recipes to test out – maybe I’ll even film them in my kitchen!

My mom and I had an awesome trip to Birmingham. It was a pretty quick turnaround – arrived Sunday evening and left Tuesday afternoon – but it was so nice to just get to hang out with my mom! Usually, the most one-on-one time we get together is to hop in the car with her to run an errand, if I’m home for a whole weekend.

We ate at some fantastic restaurants and had lots of wine – and a couple of extra drinks, because we weren’t driving! It’s vacation! I was really lucky to get to take my mom with me. She taught me all of my foundational knowledge in the kitchen and my love for cooking definitely comes from her. She takes care of everyone in the whole family, too, and doesn’t get enough time for herself, so it was really special just to take a girls’ trip and hang out. Playing slot machines while drinking Bloody Marys in the McCarran Airport in Las Vegas and eating ice cream in our hotel room while watching the Golden Globes was just the restorative time I think we both needed. Love you, mom!

2017 is already off to the races!

I mean…we can all pretty much agree that 2016 was a doozy, right?

I went through a lot of personal ups and downs: breakups, bedbugs, my dad and my sister in the hospital – twice each – at different times, all tied together with a nice anxiety bow. But I also had some great new starts: a promotion earlier in the year, the first apartment of my own, a new relationship, my first (sorta) solo vacation, and oh yeah – I won a little competition from a major food magazine.

That’s right: I can finally share the exciting news that I won the Cooking Light Family Dinner Hero contest! I was so thrilled to find out, and had to keep it under wraps for a couple of months while we signed the release forms and everything and worked out all of the prize details.

Now, onto the prize: this coming Monday, January 9, I’m going to be coming to you LIVE at noon CST from the Time Inc. food studios test kitchens in Birmingham, Alabama, with one of the Cooking Light magazine editors! We’re going to make a recipe from the January/February issue, and I’m actually not sure how many other details I can divulge yet, so I’ll share more after the fact! But if you want to tune in live, click here to watch: Cooking Light’s Facebook Page

Also, I wanted to share some of my favorite pictures from my trip to Washington, D.C. this past November – they’re not of the White House or the Library of Congress, or any of the monuments (though they were all wonderful), no, I’m talking about the Food in America exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

They had Julia Child’s actual kitchen setup on display! And it was while I was poring over this time capsule and her legacy that I found inspiration and realized something that maybe I had in common with Julia Child…

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Southwestern Stuffed Peppers – A Deceptively Easy Dinner

I think at this point, we can all agree that meal prep is important, but it’s not always the most practiced skill. I don’t always make a pot of rice or quinoa and chop my veggies Sunday evenings before the work week – and even if I did, I might not get through it all, because I live alone.

So, I look to my freezer. I like to freeze bits of leftover whatever, because they add up, and along with some pantry staples I can usually throw things together into a quick and tasty meal (and sometimes get leftovers out of it, too!). Or, in this case, I freeze what I don’t use for later.

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Rosh Hashanah Traditions, Part 2: Noodle Kugel and Tzimmes

The impetus for all that cooking was hosting dinner at my 300 square foot studio for 8 of my girlfriends as a Rosh Hashanah “orphans dinner.” In true Jessica style, I managed to only take one photo right before we dug into the food – you can see the lit candles and the spread spreading out onto my dresser-turned-buffet/sideboard!

I asked everyone else to bring something, too, because I spent Sunday afternoon doing the potatoes and two kugels (one gluten-free, one regular), and then ran off to a Dolly Parton concert at the Hollywood Bowl with my friend Lauren in the evening. Thankfully, the girls brought wine, salad and veggies, challah, and dessert. I also bought two rotisserie chickens at the grocery store on my way home from work, because I didn’t have the space in my kitchen – or the time to make a main on top of all of the carbs!

However, I got up early Monday morning to make tzimmes.  I did have to take it out of the oven early so I’d get to work on time, and then put it back in the oven after work; close enough. I tried this method with the take & bake GF challah I bought, too, but it didn’t really turn out right. I still strive to make one of my own from scratch! Until then, homemade kugel and tzimmes will have to do.

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Traditions, Chapter 1: Bubby’s Potatoes for Rosh Hashana

These babies deserve their own post. I mean, look at how pretty and crispy they are.

(I know we are almost THREE months past Rosh Hashanah already – I started this post a month ago on the plane home from D.C, but misplaced my photos – but since we’re well into the holiday season now, we might as well talk family traditions.)

I was having a craving to both cook gobs of “holiday food” and to host people at my new apartment. I think I was also missing my Bubby, and I know that a lot of my Jewish friends are transplants to LA and can’t get home to spend the high holidays with their families, so I decided to make an open invitation for an “orphans dinner” at my house on the second night of Rosh Hashanah. If I’m going to make potatoes and kugel – and make the effort to get the Cuisinart out to make tzimmes – I might as well have people over to share with me!

Our main family tradition for all Jewish holiday dinners (Hanukkah excepted, because latkes) is making Bubby’s Potatoes. The potatoes are twice-cooked, which means the first time they are par-boiled in their skins (sometimes mostly boiled, depending on how carefully you watch the pot), then peeled, rolled in oil and spices, and roasted in a hot oven. They come out with this amazing, salty, crispy brown crust and are soft and creamy on the inside.

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Asian-style Turkey Lettuce Wraps for Manic Mondays

To me, cooking is creative, collaborative, and most of the time, calming. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had my moments of panic when a pot is bubbling over and the thing in the oven needs to be stirred at the same time – or just last week when I, ahem, *tested out* my smoke alarm when browning some chicken (it works, whew!). But usually, there’s nothing more soothing to my anxious mind than to focus on a recipe and get in the zone: the mise en place of ingredients just so, the chop-chop-chopping repetition, the way your heightened senses take over: sight, smell, taste, even hearing and touch. It’s my happy place.

So, after a whirlwind weekend and then a busy Monday at work, what’s a girl to do to unwind? Why, whip up a batch of delicious and healthy Asian-inspired turkey lettuce wraps!

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Comfort Food: Braised Greens and Beans on Sweet Potatoes

I’m writing on my flight home from Washington, D.C., where I’ve been since this past Saturday for a little birthday vacation. Considering the results of the election and the current collective mood on my Facebook – and in D.C. (it’s almost funereal, really) – I thought now was a good time to share this recipe. Food can be healing, too.

Make this and invite your friends and loved ones over. Talk; listen; take action. If you’re in a position of privilege, be an ally. If you’re in need of an ally, we’re here and listening and ready to get to work, because the work to we did up to this point to enact change clearly was not enough. Defeat is not acceptable, so let’s roll up our sleeves and get started.

Hear me out: braised chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) and spinach, in a coconut milk and lemon juice-based broth, stewed down and served over sweet potatoes. It might sound a little weird and crunchy-granola (and it is!), but it is also hearty, warm, the tiniest bit spicy from the ginger and chili, sweet and creamy and tangy to hit all of the different tastebuds, just the way I like. To me, it’s modern comfort food. (And as mentioned, it’s vegan and gluten-free, to boot!)

It takes a little bit of prep, mostly chopping and then a bit of attention at the stove, but it’s pretty quick once you get it going and SO worth it for the end result.

This recipe comes from one of my favorite cooking blogs, The Kitchn.

Braised Coconut Spinach & Chickpeas with Lemon

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A couple of recipe/prep notes, though:

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Split Pea Soup (and a cornbread fail)

This is Halloween, Halloween, Halloween…

My mom always insisted on having us eat a hearty dinner before going trick-or-treating each Halloween. “Something to stick to your ribs,” she’d say. I’d groan, because she would alternate her rib-sticking cold-weather dinners each year: either chili (score!) or split pea soup (bummer!). It was a 50/50 chance, like playing roulette, and Mom had the house advantage if there ever was one. 😉 (Love you, mom!)

As I became an adult, I realized I *actually* really liked split pea soup. It could have been the salty pork chunks that initially drew me in, but the rich, thickness of the soup was like a warm blanket in your belly. I decided I needed to make split pea soup and find a gluten-free cornbread recipe to make this Halloween, because it just didn’t feel right otherwise.

Somehow, my soup didn’t thicken and the cornbread turned out hard. Let’s work our way through the recipes and I’ll try to figure out what happened! (Note: this was such a fail, I didn’t even take pics. Sorry. Instead, here’s are some cute pics of me and my sisters from Halloween.)

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Three Characters

A few weeks back there was a trend going around where people were posting 3 fictional characters they identified with the most. Mine were Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series, Sookie St. James from Gilmore Girls, and Linda Belcher from one of my favorite current shows, Bob’s Burgers.

three-characters

Is there any question why two of the three are involved in cooking?

I almost went with Monica Geller from Friends because she’s also neurotic like me, but deep down I identify a lot more with Linda Belcher, who lets her freak flag fly proudly – and she’s a loyal, protective, and supportive momma and I am a loyal, protective, and supportive friend and daughter.

Sookie, because she’s bubbly and idealistic, tightly wound but super creative, and she gets carried away with overplanning to the point where she overcomplicates everything. This is my life.

Lastly Hermione – I was totally Hermione Jean Granger, including the big teeth (overbite, still not corrected) and the bushy hair (thanks mom for brushing it always) and I was that “teacher’s pet” who got teased mercilessly and accused of cheating on the weekly spelling “pre-test” because I’d always get the highest score…I just read a lot! And I’m still a bossy know-it-all, which is why you come to me for cooking advice. 😉

What are your 3 characters?