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An untimely, or very ahead-of-its-time post: Hot chocolate spoons for foodie friends

19 Jul

Oh my gosh, I found this in my drafts folder. Written last December. Sigh…can you tell how neglected my blog has been? I’m posting it anyway, just to show myself that my blog has an update, no matter if it refers to a time when the snow was frozen, while we experience hot, sponge-like weather here. I’m not even going to spell-check it, lest I continue not to post anything because I’m fretting over letter misplacement. (It’s a dark sin, so don’t tell my fellow editors.) Is it still the thought that counts?

Via Quick post today; Stumble Upon has brought me this gem from these European chocolate makers, Chocolate Company, which would be a great gift idea–I mean, when Christmas, or anything else, comes along. A gift for a foodie, or from a foodie. But doesn't this look like something you could make at home, given a few molds? Find some high-quality chocolate, some fun mix-ins (doesn't the strawberry and pink peppercorn sound interesting?), and a few sturdy wooden spoons. You could go all Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and cover it with toppings–nuts, pieces of solid chocolate, colored candies, etc. I can think of all sorts of applications for this: white chocolate (okay, I know, it's not really chocolate, but "white candy that's not chocolate but melts and people call it white chocolate" is kind of long) with pink or blue candies for a baby shower, dark chocolate with red-hot cinnamon candies to give to your love for Valentine's Day, milk chocolate with blanched almonds and almond extract for Easter, a few for host gifts…and so it goes. (Easter here does not equal spring; it equals snow, appropriate for hot chocolate.)Voila! Christmas gift for the neighbors. And is there anything better than a homemade gift? I submit that there is not! You might, of course, need to test these out before you give them away. Ahem.


The Pink Peppercorn one looks interesting to me today, but that could also be the strawberry buttercream frosting that I just ate doing the talking. Via Green Wedding Shoes.

A little something

9 Jul

Dear friends,

Let’s be honest, shall be? Both because we can and because we should. And because I like you, and at least one of you likes me. Okay, just one. And I’ll take that.

The truth is, it hasn’t been you. It’s been me. No, really. It may be July, but outside my kitchen window, my new hostas are being splattered with rain. Likewise, the last few months have been pretty rain-splattered for me, if I may speak in symbols (and I may, since I am an editor-writer and did major in English; altogether, I have license). You see, I had a loss in April. A very, very big, painful loss, which I won’t ever be able to describe and don’t want to. To make the story short, I have been a grieving mother. I wish I could tell you more, because I’m sure some of you have suffered equally. But I hope that you’ll understand that it’s very hard, even now, to talk about, to think about, to still be experiencing. And going into depth, well, might make me sort of sink (did you like that analogy, too? Get it? Depth–sinking–like in a pool).

Anyway, I thought and thought and thought about whether to tell you, not to tell you, suddenly appear in the dark of night with some new, passionate post about how I’ve gone to pick strawberries at a you-pick farm three times in the last three weeks and have made jam for the first time, and isn’t summer glorious and all that, and take a look at my first garden, my broccoli is enormous. But I felt like this absence…I felt like I should at least say something. I’m also trying to see at least one positive angle look on this mother’s cross of a challenge, which is that sometime, someone will read this very post and be in similar pain and ask for help. And I’m hoping that at that time, I will be able to help.

But enough about that. What I can also say is that I’ve returned, I’m hoping, for good. There’s a lot of food to be talked about, so we will. After all, this is a site about food! And loving it. Doesn’t salt balance chocolate and honey and lime love each other? So I suppose we must have some bitter and some sweet, even on a food blog. But let’s stick mostly to sweet, okay? Deal.

And now. Something simple, not even a recipe, but a discovery. Some background: fruit and chocolate are good friends. We know it from the depths of our chocolate-covered-strawberry hearts, from the shores of fondue pools to the banks of rasperry hot chocolate (my way of putting in some patriotic words in place of posting for the Fourth). And yet…Nutella…and cherries? Yes, of course! And one day, in a fit of hunger and a greedy abundance of cherries (see thrice-picking of strawberries, above), I thought, “Need whole grains. Toast. Check. Need protein…Nutella…not really, but close enough. Need…cherries? Yes, cherries!” And there you have it, my entire revelation, which, if you were here, you’d know about in five seconds instead of reading it in thirty. But it needed a story; I couldn’t very well say, “Hey, you should put Nutella on your whole-wheat toast and then put sliced cherries on top. And eat it.” On the other hand, I just did.

The case, evidence as dark as ever.

The case, evidence as dark as ever.

The judgment. It was a righteous judgment. I continued to judge.

The judgment. It was a righteous judgment. I continued to judge.

-Erin

Spring indeed

24 Mar
Everything is better in a heart-shaped bowl.
Everything is better in a heart-shaped bowl.

Wouldn’t it happen that as soon as I let my guard down and decide to be excited about spring, we’d have a gray day with four days of snow in the forecast? Well. Let me tell you one thing. It might not look like spring outside, but it can be spring in my heart…aww. In lieu of that, it can be spring in my bowl and in my mouth. Even better.

 

Not knowing whether D would be available to come to our church St. Patrick’s Day party the Saturday before last (and, well, because we have an absolutely impressive reputation for making and breaking our own plans), I signed up to bring the least committal thing I could: dessert. Normally, I love cooking and baking for people, especially in my own house. But in potluck-type settings, there’s a part of me who knows that the offerings will be full of casseroles, Miracle Whip, Jell-O, and rolls picked up from the bakery, and that’s what people want and expect. I’m inclined to think that it’s not worth the while to rack my brain for some never-before-seen creation from the oven when either someone will slurp without tasting or a very cute, well-meaning child sticks their finger in the middle of. I know. I need a little attention when it comes to the food I make.

 

Despite these crucial, shattering circumstances, I thought anyway. I pondered, I prayed, I aspired to make Jamie Oliver’s Sticky Toffee Pudding or bring a plate of homemade donuts or Chocolate Clafoutis. And thought some more, and then forgot promptly once church was over.

 

The Saturday of the St. Patrick’s Day party rolls around, and fifteen minutes before it, procrastination and forgetfulness catches up, sits on me until I cry for mercy, and pushes me in the direction of the fridge and cupboard. It also threatened me with a life of only canned green beans unless I bought several pints of strawberries (they were on sale). Obviously, I obliged. Forgetfulness is a hard master.

 

So with five minutes until takeoff for the party (hooray for living really close to the church!), I scrambled and searched for something to pair with the strawberries, and you’re looking (look! look!) at the results: a regular bowl ‘o cream with a few twists. Cardamom, strawberries, and orange are good friends, but a word of caution: cardamom can be a pretty strong friend. You know that one friend who’s always the center of attention at every party? Right. Cardamom. The funny friend, but still. Once in a while, a strawberry would like a chance.

 

I’ve tried this both with plain, slivered almonds and sugared ones, with the vote that plain is best—the sugared almonds provide a crunch that is great in some places, but is kind of the guy at the gym wearing jeans and flip-flops on the treadmill; a little awkward.

 

I can see this with a variety of fruits, though I definitely wanted to stay away from the typical fruit salad offering. Blueberries would be a great addition, as would be a swirl of maple syrup. Let me know what variations you come up with.

 

Welcome, spring! (Please stay! Please! I am not native to Minnesota and can only do snow so long.)

 

-Erin

 

Spring Strawberries and Cream Bowl

 

This recipe is best made a few hours ahead of time, though it was born in about five minutes. Making it ahead of time allows the cream to absorb the cardamom and orange flavors.

 

Kitchen tip: Cream whips best when you use a chilled bowl, preferably metal. (I don’t have a metal bowl, but I just refrigerate a glass or ceramic bowl at least half an hour.) If mixing by hand, choose a large, sturdy whisk to incorporate the maximum amount of air.

 

Lastly, though the cardamom might seem exotic, this recipe has been certified both kid- and adult-approved. Miracle.

 

Prep time: About 7 minutes

Difficulty level: Not even close

 

1 pt. strawberries, tops removed, sliced thinly

1/2 C heavy whipping cream

scant 1/4 C granulated sugar

1 1/2 C plain yogurt (fat-free varieties tend to be grainy; Old Home is slightly better)

2 dried cardamom pods, ground (or 1/8 t cardamom, to taste)

1/2 t dried orange peel (or zest of one medium orange)

handful slivered almonds, divided

 

Set aside strawberries.

 

*In a large serving bowl, whip cream to soft peaks (~3 minutes with an electric mixer). Fold in sugar gradually. Fold in yogurt, cardamom, and orange peel or zest. Fold in strawberries, reserving a handful. Fold in almonds, reserving a handful. Top bowl with reserved almonds and strawberries.

Another Fast Feast: Tomato Soup Provence

6 Jan
Topped with a bit of leftover summer herbs left dwindling...

Topped with a bit of leftover summer herbs left dwindling in a pot...

Hm, what can I tell you about this? Do you hate when you don’t know how to start a post and this prevents you from posting for, oh, a few weeks? Me too. All the time. Nevertheless, the job must be done, and I’m the one to do it, right? Right.

First, I love tomato soup, in so many forms. In fact, this is probably but one of at least a half-dozen tomato soups that I’ve made in my day (which is not a very long day, but still). The difference between this and other tomato soups is the flavor, oh, the flavor.

Have you ever used Herbes de Provence? It  is a blend of herbs originally from the southern part of France; which, I’ve read, does really have the aroma of some of the flavors in this blend. The blend commonly includes lavender, rosemary, bay leaf, basil, thyme, and in my blend, fennel. All this comes together in a very perfume-y mix, very flowery. Frankly, I could put it in my dresser drawers and be happy. But we’re putting it in soup today, where it lends a flavor that is just beautiful. Sorry to be a cliche food writer, but it’s true. And the aromas from the bubbling pot–you’ll want friends over just for that!

Besides the flavor, the second wonderful thing about this soup is its simplicity. As a maker of many, many soups, some of which have many, many ingredients, this is a great deviation from my usual habits. I often craft soups to be all-in-one meals, which necessitates a little thinking along the lines of including something from each food group and incorporating the major macronutrients (fats, proteins, and carbohydrates). This soup departs from my habit, since it doesn’t have a sturdy protein backing; but America, most of us get enough protein in our diet that we could all be bodybuilders; too much, in fact. So consider this a healthy break! If you’re a vegetarian, of course, be sure to include a lean source of protein on the side or elsewhere in your day.

But back to simplicity. Once you’ve cut up your onions and garlic, you can have this soup on the table in twenty minutes, and since soups are easy to double, you might find yourself with several meals’ worth of food–where else do you get such a return on your investment? (And this is why I have an extra freezer.) Pick up some nice, crusty, whole-grain bread to serve on the side, and you’re set. I know you’ll be tempted to skip the goat cheese–it’s not in every fridge–but don’t. It is a perfect complement. (Hint: it’s most economical at Costco. Just find a friend to share it with, or plan on eating a lot of chevre.) Also fantastic–most of these items are things you’ve already got in your pantry or fridge! Aren’t I good to you?

As usual, leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you! A very happy new year to you and yours. May this be the start of a healthy, delicious 365 days.

-Erin

Provence Tomato Soup

This recipe calls for two to three tablespoons Herbes de Provence; no, this is not a typo! The tomatoes can absorb a lot of flavor. Taste first with two tablespoons; adjust as needed.

Note: I topped mine with some stray herbs (oregano) still struggling in a pot on the kitchen table, but that was silly of me. Consider the green bits in the picture simply a clever color complement for photography.

From “raw” to eating: 20 min., appx.

Makes: a big pot full, enough for 8-10 servings+

Olive oil, for sauteeing
1 large onion (I used yellow because they’re cheapest and I’m like that), medium dice
2 large cloves garlic, finely diced
1 small can tomato paste
2-3 T Herbes de Provence
1/2 C white grape juice (my subsitute for white wine)
4 14-oz cans (I think that’s the size they are; the “regular” size, in other words) diced tomatoes
2 quarts chicken broth, preferably homemade, low-sodium (but cheat if you must…don’t say I didn’t warn you, though!)

cracked pepper & salt, to taste
chevre (soft goat cheese), for plopping onto the top of each bowl

In a stock pot or your favorite large soup pot, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat; it should be enough to film the bottom of the pot. When the oil is hot (this will depend on your stove; it’s about two minutes for me), toss in the onion and garlic. Turn the heat down to medium-high. Sprinkle salt in; this will help the onions to “sweat” out their liquid. Saute garlic-onion mixture until nearly translucent, stirring occasionally.

Add the tomato paste and Herbes de Provence, and grape juice; stir to incorporate. Add the tomatoes (including the liquid) and the broth. Cover and bring to a boil.

Taste and adjust for seasoning; to serve, ladle into bowls, top with a small scoop of chevre (it melts–so good!), and serve a piece of toasted whole-grain bread on the side.

Leftovers can be stored, refrigerated, for up to two weeks, or frozen, for two or three months. If they last that long!

Fast Monday Night Dinner

14 Dec
One bowl to clean up after dinner! What's not to love?

One bowl to clean up after dinner! What's not to love?

I don’t about all of you, but come Monday, I’m not all up for a rollicking dinner complete with accessories and baking. Especially since I’ve started an on-site contract job (if anyone’s seen “The Office,” I am Ryan—the second-class “temp”), it goes like this: get home, think of food, think I should make food, wonder when the Man is coming home, think about making food, look in my pantry, have aspirations for way more than I should at that time (who’s making homemade marshmallows before dinner?!), look in the fridge, look online for inspiration in food that other people make, repeat. Something along those lines. This process continues until I’m humbled and hungry enough to wonder if we have any leftover Halloween candy and, if we do, well, there you have it. Three Musketeers for an appetizer.

Making dinner is good for you

As nine million news reports have told you, however, these are tough times we’re in, especially in this country, and a girl (and her man) deserve to eat something decent even when they might have to shovel the driveway and contemplate why they haven’t done anything about food storage, since some of the broadcasts could leave you to believe that the apocalypse is tomorrow. In which case, it really would be unfortunate that I haven’t done anything in the way of preserving with my six bags of from-the-orchard apples besides hoard them. And on the other hand, my methods of preservation include Tupperware and freezers, so all is not lost.

The point is that even though I might be inclined to make the bad decision of finishing off the sugar cookies from last weekend while I’m hungry, this really isn’t necessary. Lately, fresh food is it when cooking, and I’m all for it. This sometimes involves a lot of prep work, as I oughta know—I probably go through four onions, a bag of carrots, and a bag of celery a week just for soup bases. It doesn’t have to, though, and yes, all those euphemisms about flavors “singing” when the food is simply prepared actually isn’t a bad idea. Though if my food does start singing, I kind of want it to singing to a rendition of “Gesu Bambino” at the moment.

This is less of a recipe and more of a pattern—my nutrition background and concern with the composition of what I put in my mouth demands that my eating and cooking style be not only tasty, but check off the necessary macro and micronutrients. Yes. I literally think, “Grain…check. Protein…check. Vegetable…check. Dairy?” Not every meal needs to have every one of those groups, since I can push and pull during the day—my lunches tend to be very vegetable- and fruit-stocked, so it’s okay if I don’t load up on that group at dinner. This meal is basically a result of my thinking—grain (soba noodles), check. Protein (fried egg), check. Vegetable (sprouts, haha—no, not just for my name), check. I fry the egg in a little olive oil to get some good fat in, especially for the Man, and dinner is done. I’m talking five-ish minute here, maybe longer if you aren’t able to cook the sprouts and noodles at the same time, for example.

Nutritional lowdown

Speaking of soba noodles. Don’t be afraid. I know. They’re Japanese. And you’ve never eaten them. And yes, they do taste kind of funny. But look here. They’re a whole grain, and even though they’re buckwheat, not whole wheat, and whole wheat is kind of a nutritional American Idol finalist of grains, buckwheat is like the girl who’s still pretty great but just didn’t get the record deal. Buckwheat is actually a seed, not a grain, and related to rhubarb. Just don’t go putting it in pie, because I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t be good.

As for nutritional benefits, buckwheat (soba noodles) has a range of refuted plusses, including blood sugar regulation, an alternative to gluten (it seems like more and more people are sensitive to gluten), and something about menopause. Which I have no comment on, but apparently it’s a good thing. Buckwheat, I mean.

Brussels sprouts, well, you know about those guys. Relative to broccoli and all cruciferous vegetables, including our friends the cabbages. Yes, they taste somewhat like metal and a little bitter. Season, season, season, and cut into smaller pieces. Like their family members, they’re good for fiber, some iron (though not as bioavailable as other sources), some potassium, and other trace minerals.

Eggs. These are our friends, okay? I know there were some nasty rumors about them in the past. The 80s and 90s were not a good time for them, and I think they’d rather forget those decades. We’ve treated them wrong, we’ve put them down, and what have they done? Built us muscles, given us slow-release energy, and stuck our cookies and baked goods together, covered our fried goods and emulsified our lives. They deserve more. And they don’t ask for much. And in this case, they like to be fried in some olive oil.

Soba Noodles With Fried Egg

From “raw” to eating: 10 min., appx.

Makes: Two meal-sized servings

½ lb. soba noodles
¼ one purple onion, cut into large dices
½ lb. brussels sprouts
olive oil, for frying
four eggs
cracked pepper
salt, to taste
soy sauce, for seasoning at the table

Cook soba noodles according to package directions. Set aside.

Halve sprouts; score halves with a small ‘X.’ Set aside. Heat a grill pan—medium heat. Put a few swirls of olive oil in the pan. Toss in onion, followed by the sprouts, cut side down. Cook until sprouts are nearly golden, and ignore the fact that these vegetables have my name. It is coincidence, but a jolly one. And no, I do not eat sprouts every night just for the fun of it.

While the sprouts are cooking, fry up your eggs in batches of two at a time. Crack two of the eggs into the pan; crack some pepper and sprinkle some salt on the top. Cook two or three minutes on each side, flipping once (optional; this is the “hard yolk” way).

Add soba noodles to the pan with the sprouts. Heat through.

Divide noodles, sprouts, and eggs between two large-ish bowls. I like to put the noodles on the bottom, sprouts over that, and two eggs flopped on top.

Pass around the soy sauce and enjoy the fact that you made dinner in maybe ten minutes.

Recipe: Garlic Croutons

23 Oct

Croutons are often the bread of choice around here—if you’ve only been using Mrs. Cubbison’s and have been putting them on your salad, you’re seriously missing out. Croutons are like sparkly earrings with your jeans—they make everything so much more dressed-up and accessorized with very little effort. And yes, this is one accessory that’s completely worth it.You might want to have a seat for this one, for I am about to reveal to you one of the best-kept secrets of my kitchen. No, the culinary world. No, the universe! Once you make these, like the boys and girls in Toyland, you “can never go back again.” Seriously, kids. If I were to make a formula out of this recipe, it’d go something like this:

Cut-up old bread + garlic + olive oil + salt + baking = croutons.

Less oil is needed than you'd think.

Less oil is needed than you think.

I feel silly already just posting a recipe to me that is less of a recipe and more along the line of instructions for turning on a light, but I’ve been taken aback so many times at how much people love this simple topping that I thought I’d feature it. If I asked, I don’t think anyone would be surprised that they could make their own croutons—like other things we’ve been used to buying, it just doesn’t occur to them. Or seems difficult and time-consuming. It’s neither, especially when the bread is pre-made. (Did I just endorse using something with the prefix “pre” in it? Yes. Yes, I did. I’m feeling okay.)

One of the prime ways we like to eat croutons.

One of the prime ways we like to eat croutons.

My only cautionary note is that while you’d never eat an entire loaf of say, bakery bread by yourself, you’d be surprised how dangerously easy it is to drive on the edge of that cliff when that loaf of bread becomes croutons. They may seem small, but it only takes a handful for you to realize that you’re really not hungry any more. When you can’t figure out why, I’ll help you out: you just ate an entire loaf of bread. Possibly by yourself. Good friend that I am, however, I’ve let you know ahead of time, so all will be well. (Side note: the whole-loaf-eaten thing doesn’t phase the Midwestern Meateater, so if you’ve got such characters around, don’t be surprised how not horrified they are at this thought.)

Happy eatings!

-Erin

Garlic Croutons

If you’re feeling particularly passionate, your own homemade bread would work fine for this recipe, of course, and all the more power to you for it; homemade bread that I’ve tasted, however, is much heavier than a store-bought version, so keep in mind that this characteristic will transfer to your croutons, too.

Tip: I like to buy day-old, discounted bread for this recipe. If it’s to be found in abundance, I buy in up in droves and freeze it, using it for later. It’s extremely affordable (a euphemism for “cheap”) and makes me feel good about using something that would be thrown out. (I worked in too many bakeries. I know.) If you can’t find old bread, however, non-old bread will work just fine—the action of toasting them in the oven takes care of that.

From “raw” to eating: 10 minutes

Makes: a loaf’s worth of croutons…share. Share!

Inside:
1 loaf store-bought bakery bread, un-sliced and a few days over the hill
2 cloves garlic, bashed and minced
2-3 T olive oil
salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Slice bread into long ½” batons and then into ½” cubes. Place on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle minced garlic around as evenly as possible. Drizzle oil oil; not much is needed. Lightly toss with hands to coat. Sprinkle with salt, to taste.

Toast in oven for ~10 minutes, checking once halfway through and rotating if necessary.

Grown-up Mac and Cheese: Sage and Ham Version

6 Oct
As you can see, it was well-liked.

As you can see, it was well-liked.

I grew up on the blue box macaroni and cheese (yes, you know the one), and at the time, I thought it was delightful. In fact, it was a sure sign of affluence in my mind when my friends had character macaroni—when the pasta was shaped like a Barbie or whatever. Those were fancy friends, and I probably should’ve done a better job keeping in contact with such rich people. However, you grow up, and as your body gets bigger, your mind gets stronger, and it’s great to learn! ‘Cause knowledge is power! Actually, those are lines from “Schoolhouse Rock,” but still applicable, as well as catchy; hopefully, your taste buds grew up when you got older, too. My mom’s dreams were realized, I believe, when I would eat fish.

Despite my obvious and impressive maturation, good ‘ol mac ‘n cheese still has a homey appeal, and its place in the American psyche will probably never change. Still, the blue box won’t cut it anymore, so it’s time for an upgrade.

I make several versions of grown-up macaroni and cheese: tomato-pea, herbs de Provence, some with white cheeses, some with orange cheese, some with soft cheese, and some with hard. If I were really a high-roller, I’d be melting things like Gouda or gruyere in here, but I’ll have to dream. If you do put some higher-end, gourmet cheeses in, leave me a comment and let me know which ones you use. And if you could, please come bring me some to try. I’m a very nice person.

~Erin

Grown-up Macaroni and Cheese: Ham and Sage

This recipe includes one my lengthier instruction sections, and a few more steps than usual. Don’t be daunted, though—as with everything else I make, there’s nothing complicated here. If you can make “blue box” macaroni and cheese, you can do this. And you’ll be very glad you did!

From “raw” to eating: 30 min., appx.

Makes: a huge bowl full, 8+ servings

Inside:

1 lb. whole-wheat macaroni

1 ½ C milk
1 small onion
1 clove garlic, smashed
6 whole cloves
1/8 t nutmeg, grated

2 T butter
2 T milk

½ lb. smoked ham, cubed
~6 mature (large) leaves fresh sage (about 1 T), chopped into ribbons or flecks
½ C shredded parmesan cheese
kosher salt and freshly-cracked pepper, to taste

1/3 C pre-seasoned panko bread crumbs (or make your own)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1-2 T liquid the pasta cooked in. Put macaroni in a large bowl (you’ll be cooking in this bowl.) Add ham and sage (don’t need to mix at this point). Set aside.

Poke the cloves in the onion—like studding an orange with cloves at Christmastime.

Put milk, studded onion, smashed garlic, a little salt, and some pepper in a medium saucepan. Place the saucepan on medium-low heat on a stovetop. While the milk heats up, make a roux: in the same pan you cooked the macaroni in, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour to make a roux. Set aside.

When the milk just barely starts to steam, remove from heat (you don’t want to develop a skin on the milk). Remove and discard clove-onion and garlic. (Technique note: you’ve just infused the milk. This technique allows a liquid to take on flavors without retaining the things you used to flavor it (onion, garlic). You’ll recognize this technique from tea-making. Hooray, you!)

Combine roux and milk mixture. Stir to fully incorporate. Gently pour over macaroni mixture. Stir in parmesan cheese. Top with bread crumb mixture.

Cook at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes, or until set (doesn’t jiggle). Let cool for 5 minutes before serving. Makes excellent, cuttable leftovers.