celebrex dizziness

Jan 10

Simple guacamole

I once dated a guy who complained when I made homemade guacamole from scratch. “Of course you had to find the one fruit that contains fat,” he grumbled.

Needless to say, it didn’t last.


Guacamole with red onion
1 medium avocado
1/4 c diced red onion
1 tsp lime juice
1 tsp chopped garlic
sea salt to taste

I didn’t discover guacamole until I started downing an exorbitant amount of Chipotle in high school.  It was while studying abroad in London that I started making my own.  We made a lot of runs to Sainsbury’s in the middle of the night, buying tomatoes and onions and complaining about the price of Hass avocados.  It wasn’t until I was back stateside that I realized my inspiration guac didn’t contain tomatoes (it does, however, contain cilantro, an ingredient with which I rarely cook).

This is guacamole made in a hurry on a Saturday morning, ingredients combined from my fridge before they had a chance to go bad.  I wanted to make it early so it would have time to chill before lunch.  There is fancier guacamole, surely – I’ve made it.  Is it better?  This is pretty darn good.


Don’t let anyone tell you it’s hard to cut up an avocado.  Take a sharp knife and cut around the pit lengthwise.  Pop the two halves apart.  Quarter by cutting around the pit.  When you pop these two sides apart, it should be easy to remove the pit.  The skin should be easy to peel off once you’ve cut the avocado into eighths.  If it’s not, you didn’t let it ripen long enough.

Cut the avocado into small chunks, and toss in a flat bottom bowl so it just covers.  You want something big enough to get a potato masher down into.  Toss with lime juice to keep the fruit from browning.

Dice about 1/4 cup red onion for each avocado you plan to smash.  You can use other types of onions, but you’ll change the flavor palette and need to adjust the seasoning accordingly.  A quarter cup is about one thin slice (1/8″ – 1/4″) of a large red onion.  This is not an exact science.  There’s no need to measure.  If it feels right, toss it in.

Toss in the garlic.  I always use the kind you get from Spice World in the little blue jar, but that’s a matter of preference.  If you’re a purist (or are just in love with a recently acquired garlic press), use about a clove of minced garlic.  If the thought of scooping a whole bit of garlic onto your chip terrifies you, use about 1/4 teaspoon of the powder. Or the salt.  It’s up to you.

Now give it a little stir before pummeling it with the potato masher.  I don’t use a food processor because I don’t like mine blended into a pulp.  I like the contrast of chunks and smashed avocado the masher creates.  Before seasoning, I like to try a bite of guacamole with whatever I’m planning to serve it with.  You won’t need as much salt if you’re using really salty chips (think Chipotle chips).  Sometimes I add a pinch of cracked black pepper.


Here’s the hard part – now you have to stop sampling for long enough to cover your guacamole and nestle it in your overcrowded fridge.  I know, I know.  You hate me.  You won’t in a couple of hours when you taste how much stronger the flavors are when given a chance to blend.

Jan 10

Pork chops with brown butter and mushrooms

pork chops with brown butter

Don’t those look fantastic?  They took less than 20 minutes to make.

It was one of those nights – I’d made plans to go out, but I changed my mind after a long day at the station.  I needed something to make for myself and Brian, and fast.  I had some mushrooms that were about to pass their prime, as well as some beautiful boneless pork chops (3 for $5!) in the fridge.

The pork chops of my childhood were dry and unappetizing, coated heavily with Mrs. Dash and cooked to an inch of their lives in my mother’s electric skillet.  They were an obligatory meal – something my mom made because my dad liked them, though he never cared for these particular bricks of overcooked meat.  In reality, “the other white meat” can be as juicy and fragrant as a well-cooked steak.

The trick to cooking good pork?  An oven-safe pan.  If you don’t already have one, get one.  They’re not very expensive, since you’re not paying for a fancy non-stick coating or comfortable grip handle. I bought mine for about $12 at Tuesday Morning, a discount home store, and it’s more than held up to almost daily use for more than two years.  It’s a little harder to clean up than my beloved Millennium skillet, but it’s a favorite for searing meat and finishing it in the oven.  That’s what I did with this pork.  I seasoned each chop lightly – coarsely ground black pepper and garlic sea salt – while waiting for the oil to heat up.  I browned about a teaspoon of minced garlic, then threw in the pork chops.  I browned them for about a minute on each side, then transferred them to a 350° oven, which I checked periodically over the next 10 minutes for doneness.  I took them out when a steak knife to the center revealed a perfect pale pink color.

As an aside – is anyone else obsessed with “Worst Cooks in America?” I certainly don’t think I’d qualify to be among their ranks, but I did find myself blushing the other night when Chef Beau criticized Marque for checking his salmon too frequently when it was on the grill.  I’m the world’s worst about this – I check, stir and poke whatever I’m fixing constantly.  (I do not forget to taste – not ever.)  But I was good tonight, letting the oil and garlic form a perfect golden crust around the edge of the pork chop.

If you don’t know about brown butter (or can’t quite get it “brown” instead of “burnt”), check out this great video from Jenny Slafkosky, a freelance food writer.  The trick is to hover.  Closely.  I started with 1/2 a stick of butter, cut into tablespoons.  Once it had nearly browned, I tossed in a handful of sliced mushrooms and seasoned with cracked pepper and a pinch of salt.  A minute later, with the mushrooms cooked, I plated the pork chops with some asparagus (seasoned with a little of the coarsely ground garlic sea salt and “steamed” in the microwave with a Zip ‘n Steam bag), then drizzled the pork chops with the mushrooms and brown butter.  I probably could have used less butter – more like 3 T for two people – because there was a lot of sauce left on the plates at the end of the meal.

Great meals (Brian set his fork down and said I could make this one again “any time”) don’t have to take a lot of time.  We were eating about 20 minutes after inspiration struck after rooting around in the fridge.  They also don’t have to hurt your wallet – the cost of the meal was about $4.50 for two people, excluding pantry staples like spices and oils.

ETA: Owing to the fact that I still had one more pork chop, I made a singleton variation of this meal later in the week. Instead of covering with a brown butter sauce, I smothered the pork chop with onions. Just add onions to the pan while the garlic is sizzling. When the chop is ready to go in the oven, move the onions to cover. I served with steamed broccoli and a baked potato, and I’ll probably aim for some middle ground between the two versions the next time I cook it.

Jan 10

Cooking lessons

I like undertaking projects, and without a doubt, one of my longest running projects to date is my freshman year roommate, Jashin.  I know, I know.  That statement sounds really awful.  But even she admits she can be a bit of a work in progress at times. Now more than ever, with her undergraduate experience drawing to a close, I know I will someday have to release Jashin into the wild.  My last lesson?  I wish to arm her with some easy recipes to ensure she won’t live off pasta and jarred spaghetti sauce for the rest of her life.

I don’t remember being taught how to cook, and there weren’t a lot of home cooked meals in my house growing up – just a regular rotation of Hamburger Helper and what my siblings and I lovingly refer to as “leftover casserole,” which consists of the week’s meals rehashed and stewed in a Crockpot for three hours.

My grandmother, however, was a different story.  I reckon hers was the last generation that fixed breakfast every morning and called lunch dinner and dinner supper.  Even on mornings when she had to get four small granddaughters and her husband out the door by 7, she had breakfast waiting by the time we toddled down the hallway.  I’m talking the works – scrambled eggs, fried eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy.  I don’t know if I ever made anything with her that wasn’t apple pie or chocolate chip cookies, but I was always in her kitchen.  While my sister and cousins would play video games, I was watching her fry chicken legs in hot oil.

I cook instinctively – I sniff, I smell, I taste, I stir.  I’m constantly adding a pinch of this or a pinch of that, and I don’t measure unless I’m baking.  It makes me excellent at games like “What can I make with a half pound of ground turkey, three stalks of asparagus, an almost-empty tub of cream cheese and a handful of spices?”  It doesn’t translate so well to a.) creating replicable recipes or b.) teaching people how to cook, especially not when the student is someone like Jashin, who is not instinctual in the kitchen and requires a recipe to make Jello shots. But I like a challenge.

chicken chili

Chicken chili
1-2 chicken breasts, cubed
1 can white beans, drained
1 tomato, diced
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 T minced garlic
1/2 c chicken broth
crushed red pepper
cayenne pepper

I like chili because it’s a relatively simple dish to make, not one that requires hours laboring over the stove as most people think.  I especially like white chili, which can be thrown together in a matter of minutes from what you have on hand.  Like onions?  Use more onions.  Need to use up a second tomato?  Dice it up.  Only have one chicken breast?  You get the drift.  I started our with a crash course on pantry staples – things like canned broth, minced garlic and spice rack favorites that beginner cooks don’t think to buy unless a recipe calls for it.  I use cumin in a lot of chicken dishes, but Jashin had never heard of it.  She’d never cooked from a jar of garlic before, and noticed immediately how much more aromatic a dish becomes when you can saute garlic and onions together.  Start with about a tablespoon of olive oil, adding more as needed.  Begin sauteing the onions and garlic and add the chicken when it’s almost translucent and oh-so fragrant.  Now it’s time to season.  I told Jashin to think about how she’d season something that was already on her plate – something like a grilled chicken breast.  ”You’d sprinkle a little all over and crack some pepper on top until it had some color, right?”  She agreed.  That’s the principle I use in this dish.  I eyeball each spice, shaking each over the skillet in turn.

Once the chicken has cooked, it’s time to add the beans.  I make sure to give them a little toss in the cooking oil before adding the broth, which should be brought to a boil.  Once it’s bubbling, stir in the tomatoes, reduce the heat and let the chili simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

Here’s where you really work with your spices.  It’s much easier to season chili than it is a grilled chicken breast, as you can taste  the ingredients between cooking and serving.  I told Jashin to think about what each spice adds to the dish – cumin adds smoke; red pepper, spice; and cayenne, heat – and season accordingly.  One thing I should have told her was to keep in mind that the chili would be even heater and spicier than what she sampled on the stove because the simmering process enriches the spices.  Our chili ended up being a bit hot, but nothing that couldn’t be tapered with a big glass of milk.

I have about a zillion cute serving dishes – these soup crocks were a steal at four for $7 – and I firmly believe presentation is a key to cooking for guests.  Here’s my chili secret: spoon some chili into the bowl or crock, top with cheese, cover with more chili, then sprinkle with more cheese.  That way, people get what they want (a mountain of cheese), but the dish itself isn’t so buried they can’t identify what they’re about to dig a spoon into.  Other serving suggestions?  Top with a dollop of sour cream and a slice of avocado.  Class dismissed!

Jan 10

Enjoy Life Cookies for Everyone

I have Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that prevents me from absorbing the gluten protein found in wheat, barley, rye and commercial oats.  There are a lot of blogs out there that bill themselves as gluten-free.  This isn’t one of them.  By virtue of necessity, everything I cook is gluten-free, and a tag labeling my recipes as such would just be superfluous.  I won’t spend a lot of time waxing prosaic about joys or heartaches of gluten-free cooking.  Yes, I feel much better on a gluten-free diet.  No, gluten-free pizza will never taste the same as wheat pizza.  I might talk about new gluten-free products from time to time, and you can bet my recipes for baked goods will include strange flours like tapioca and sorghum.  But there’s no need to call attention to that fact.  Yes, I ask a million questions before ordering in a restaurant.  No, I’m not a freak.  My body just works a little differently than yours.

I won’t lie – I fantasize about a day when there’s a pill to alleviate the symptoms of gluten-intolerance, just as there is today for lactose intolerance.  I’m not an expert or a doctor, and I don’t know if this is a pipe dream.  There are a lot more good gluten-free recipes and products on the market right now – good, but not always great.  I miss wheat a lot less today than I did three years ago when I was first diagnosed.  I don’t want to pay $4 for a teensy sack of all-purpose flour that isn’t all that versatile.  But that’s my reality, and I try not to dwell.

Enjoy Life Cookies for Everyone

If you (or someone you love) has food allergies, do something nice for yourself.  Get a copy of Enjoy Life Cookies for Everyone, one of the best allergen-friendly baking handbooks I’ve ever seen.  It’ll help you cook not just for people like me, but for people with any of the eight most common allergens.  Not all of the recipes are foul proof.  A lot of the bar cookies and cakes I like to make so much still dry up after just two days, as gluten-free baked goods are wont to do.  Sometimes the recipes need a little tweaking because of personal tastes or individuals needs (for instance, I can eat eggs and dairy, and I often miss those flavors in this recipe collection).  Othertimes, the recipes are spot-on, and my tasters can hardly believe they’re eating gluten-free.  If you’re interested in baking gluten-free, start here.  The more you work these recipes, the better you’ll understand how these ingredients work together to create a baked good that’s as close to what you remember as possible.

When stripped down to their ingredients, most meals are gluten-free.  Proteins, vegetables, fruits, spices and oils are all a part of a gluten-free diet.  I want the frustrated, newly-diagnosed Celiac to find easy-to-follow recipes here, like a light at the end of the tunnel.  But I don’t want to write myself into a niche.  If the aspiring home cook can find just as much inspiration in my words, then that’s when I’ll know I’ve succeeded.

Jan 10

Turkey tacos

Turkey Tacos

If you’re like me and love leftovers, then taco dinners are about the greatest thing you can do for yourself. Not only are tacos something almost everyone can agree on, but it’s really easy to throw in an extra serving or two of meat to eat on for the rest of the week. Plus, if you’re fixing dinner for picky eaters, they can make them as plain as they want.

About a month ago (during the post-Thanksgiving sale period), I started experimenting with turkey as a substitute for hamburger in most of my favorite recipes. I didn’t eat a lot of turkey growing up – my mom has a weird aversion to the bird, so my intake was pretty much limited to cold cuts and two holiday birds per year – and I always figured that the difference would be really noticeable in chili and stroganoff and all my other favorites. I’ve been pleased to find it’s not. I’ve even sneaked it into meatballs without my dinner guests noticing.

There are a lot of benefits when choosing turkey. Even when it’s not on sale, it’s pound-for-pound about a dollar cheaper than the 93/7 ground beef I used to buy. Plus, the meat is so lean that you rarely have to drain it, which means less mess.

Everyone has their own formula for seasoning tacos, but I like to keep things simple with McCormick’s original taco seasoning mix. It’s about the cheapest thing you can buy without sacrificing quality, and it’s both gluten- and MSG-free. I usually add chicken or veggie broth instead of water to increase the flavor. For shells, I usually use La Tiara brand yellow or white corn (yes, the kind that retails for $1.47/dozen at WalMart), heated in a 450 degree oven for about five minutes. They’re made with real shortening, so heating them brings out a wonderfully authentic greasiness. If you’re saving some for leftovers, don’t assemble them the night you make dinner. They’ll get soggy in the fridge.

The best part about cooking with turkey? It’s so healthy you don’t have to feel bad about adding that squirt of sour cream.