Sponge Cake

I like vanilla cake. I know, I’m boring.

I wanted the chance to make a vanilla sponge cake, in the traditional style. Leavened with egg whites. Not baking soda.

I also really like strawberries and am super lazy about making frosting.

So I made this:

Vanilla sponge cake with strawberries and whipped cream frosting.  Yumm.

I took the recipe out of my favorite Williams Sonoma Essentials book. This cookbook is such a great reference for baking. I use it all the time. (Because, I can never remember what soft peaks vs. hard pearls should look like, so I check the pictures!)

Five ingredients in a cake.

Separate your yolks and your whites. Folks, I promise I pulled out the shell and the bit of yolk in the whites.

Sift the flour.

I love these measuring spoons, I added a dash of salt.

Beat the egg yolks with half the sugar, plus the vanilla.


Stiffen the egg whites with the rest of the sugar.

Fold yolk mixture and whites mixture together very, very carefully so you don’t over mix.

Sorry, forgot to take pictures of the layers in the tins or cooking.

I made some whipped cream for frosting.

Some strawberries in the layers.

I served it up for Father’s Day.

The layers were a little tough, not a lot of moisture. It absolutely needed a cake syrup of some kind, or different frosting. I also probably got the egg whites a bit to stiff.

I will absolutely make a sponge cake again!


Chocolate Chip Cookies

The following is a review of an extremely scientific experiment designed to determine the better of two chocolate chip cookie recipes.  Through rigorous testing and detailed observations, I determined my new go-to cookie recipe.

Just kidding.  I (with an assistant) baked the cookies, and then ate them.

Chocolate chip cookies are the best, right?

My Mom and Grandma always used the Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, and they were never really my favorite.  They were fine, but ended up too crispy and dry for my taste.  I started using the Triple Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe out of my Williams Sonoma Baking Cookbook, and decided to pit the two against each other.

A few weeks ago, my Mom offered to assist (and my Dad offered to taste test).  So she whipped up the Tollhouse recipe.

Creaming the sugar and butter.

Adding the eggs and dry ingredients.

And, of course, I forgot to take a final picture.  What resulted was a thin, crispy cookie.  Still a good cookie, but just not my favorite.  The cookies still got eaten, but I didn’t take many home.

While we were cooking, my Mom and I took a hard look at the two recipes.  Here they are side by side.

They’re pretty much the same, as most standard chocolate chip cookie recipes are.  Mine adds more chocolate chips.  The Tollhouse recipe about 5 dozen cookies, mine only made about 30, so I doubled it for easier comparison.

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
  • 1 cup golden brown sugar
  • 12 tbps granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • Chocolate chips.

One thing that struck us was the difference between the ratios of butter and sugar to flour.  Less flour would result in a crispier cookie.  Too much flour makes it too dense and thick.  The amount of sugar can make it too sweet.

The other thing was the amount of baking soda.  Baking soda is a leavening agent which makes cookies, cakes, and other yummies rise.  My theory was that the added flour and baking soda would make a bigger, thicker cookie.  Maybe even softer.

So I made the double batch, and did some tasting.

I definitely preferred the second cookie.  I surveyed a few others. Chad said he liked this type, so did my Dad.

So – there you have it.  Chocolate Chip Cookies – don’t trust that Tollhouse.

Edit – My Mom just popped in my office to tell me that these are definitely better than the Tollhouse.  Yay!

Ready, Set, Bake!

Well, we’ve Mastered the Essentials, to a certain extent, and we’re ready to start on the next challenge.  It’s only been a month in between challenges this time!

In April we’ll be setting of on our next blogging adventure.  Similar to Mastering the Essentials, we’ll be doing monthly categories instead of weekly.  Though 52 Weeks of Cooking was an amazing learning and cooking experience, it got a little overwhelming by the end.

And the topic of the next year’s challenges?  Baking!

Inspired by our mutual love of baking, and mutual love of the Great British Bake Off (please tell me you’ve watched) we’ve picked out 12 months worth of challenges.  Each month, we’ll both bake our challenge and make a post.  Our goal is to get really good at baking things we know, and try out the things we don’t.

We will be on more of a posting schedule this time around.  You can look for posts in the 2nd and 4th week of each month.

This leaves the 1st and 3rd weeks of the month open for guest blogging, which we, of course love.  If you’d like to post let us know!  We would love to have a million guest bloggers!

Here are the topics, by month:

  • April: Cookies
  • May: American-style biscuits
  • June: Cake
  • July: Yeast Bread
  • August: Pastry
  • September: Scones
  • October: Sweet Rolls
  • November: Pumpkin
  • December: Shortbread
  • January: Tart
  • February: Baguette
  • March: Pie

So…Ready, Set, Bake!!


Ma, the Meat Loaf!

My family has a 100% tried and true meat loaf recipe.

It looks a little like this:

Can you read that?  It’s my Grandma Eleanor’s handwriting.

My Mom makes this recipe (Eleanor was her Mom).  My Aunt on my Dad’s side makes this recipe.  I’m sure my Mom’s other siblings have made it before, too.  I love it.

I’ve made it once before, during mashed potato month to very mild success (I forgot the Rice Krispies, a key ingredient, tried to add them like, 10 minutes into baking time, things got weird).

My problem with meatloaf is that a recipe like this, calling for three pounds of meat, makes a huge meatloaf.  Which I can’t really eat all by myself.  Lisa, in her great wisdom, suggested I try the meatloaf muffin route.  They probably freeze quite well, and it would be easy to portion out a few in bags to take out one by one, as opposed to half a meatloaf.

I decided to run with her suggestion.  I also decided to halve the recipe, not sure how many muffins 3 pounds of meatloaf would create.

The original recipe calls for 2 pounds of ground hamburger and 1 pound of ground pork.  I couldn’t quite find a half a pound of ground pork, so I went with a meat loaf mix.  That included pork, ground beef, and ground veal (weird).  It was a little under 1.5 lbs, which I think reduced the size of the muffins a touch.

A trusty assistant, Chad, showed up to chop the onion for me.  Chad also informed me that his family meat loaf recipe uses oatmeal as a binder, where we use Rice Krispies.  Lisa, I think uses bread crumbs?  Anyone else out there have an interesting binder they use?

There are no pictures of me mixing up the meat, mostly because I go for the ‘hands on’ approach.  I will say, the Rice Krispies do the whole “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” thing while being mixed, and it is funny.

Then I balled the muffins up, starting with a half a cup measuring cup to get the size right, but reduced the amount of meat from there.  This is where I would have liked a little more meat to make larger muffins.  Chad suggested I press the top of the meat muffins with my thumb, like when we made burgers.

My googling told me a few different cooking times. So we started with 15 minutes at 400.  Then we did it in increments of 7 minutes a few times before the muffins hit 160.  All told it was closer to 30 minutes.  This could be my oven, so I’d def try the incremental approach.

Out of the oven.  Half this recipe made 12 small-ish muffins.  I think the full three pound recipe would definitely make 24+.

Final product.

These were stellar.  Definitely not overdone, in fact they kind of melted in your mouth.  They kind of cooked in the grease more, which I’m sure helped.  I will definitely try this avenue again, and maybe use the full 3-pound recipe for some leftovers.

That Ridiculous Alfredo Thing

For our final Alfredo-based post, Lisa suggested this: Bacon Chicken Alfredo Roll-up

At first I asked: “What is that?”

Then I watched the video. I was still pretty confused, but slightly intrigued.  See, you saw me rant a few months back about poorly written blog recipes and other internet-sources food preparation. To me, Tasty (the Buzzfeed recipe site) is the epitome of bad internet recipes.

But, it seemed ridiculous enough to be entertaining. Lisa’s Post from her Cook’s Illustrated cookbook taught us that Alfredo doesn’t re-heat well.  I decided I wasn’t in the mood for Alfredo Zoodles.

So, I asked Chad if he wanted to help me make This Ridiculous Bacon Alfredo Thing.  He said sure. (He actually said something along the lines of: ‘oh no, why would I ever want to make and help you eat something with bacon and Alfredo sauce?’ pretty sure that was sarcasm.)


First thing I chopped the parsley.  That was easy.


Then 6 lasagna noodles in the pot to boil.

Then, it was bacon time.



I mean.  It was kind of fun.  The recipe called for thick-cut, so that’s what we went with.  I definitely think it was the right choice.


Chad cooked up the rest of the bacon.

And on to the Alfredo sauce.  Things did not turn out super well.  Now, in my defense I was cooking on an unfamiliar stove.  But I’m not super impressed with Tasty’s Alfredo recipe. See, they were specific enough to give a cook time for garlic – a flavor enhancer.  But with the cream the recipe simply said “Add the cream, and bring to a boil.”

So the garlic gets a time limit, but the instructions for cream, the difficult and much more crucial aspect, is simply “boil?”  That irked me a little, and seems wrong.


And it broke.

The sauce came to a boil, and the cream and butter got mad at each other and broke up.  But really, if you look in this less-than-appetizing pot, you can see that the cream has thickened to a near curdle, and the butter has separated itself.  There really wasn’t any saving this, unfortunately.

We improvised with something that may or may not have come from a jar.  I mean, I didn’t basket-weave that bacon for nothing.

I’m understanding, after this month especially, how sensitive cream-based sauces are.  They require a bit of finesse and focus, things I don’t always have.  I will absolutely admit the blame can’t lie fully with Tasty, I kept it on the burner too long.

To me, a recipe is more than just a list of ingredients and a list of steps. It’s clear, concise instructions.  There are specific words you use to mean something: like chop, dice, mince or simmer, boil, rolling boil, etc.  It’s disappointing, because websites like Tasty are fun, and include videos that can be super helpful or at least very watchable.  But, if you’re brought to the the recipe because someone’s Facebook friend liked the video, you may not be able to trust it.


Alfredo + Chicken


So in the video, you’ll notice that they used noodles without scalloped edges.  Chad’s theory was that they cut the noodles down to size with the bacon.  They left out this instruction.  Overlapping was a little difficult.

Cheese.  There was some spinach, too.


It’s not overlapping super well.

Then the bacon roll.





The recipe called for ‘about’ 25 minutes at 400 degrees. Definitely went for 8-10 more minutes.  Could’ve gone longer.  Plus some broil time at the end.

Unfortunately I don’t have pictures of any plated versions, which called for more sauce to be poured on top.  The bacon separated from the noodles, and everything fell apart when it was served.  It tasted pretty good, though.  Very, very, very, very rich.

Chad whipped together the ‘classic’ Minnesota Doritos Taco Salad that Buzzfeed introduced us to, the one with French or Catalina dressing. Chad’s made it for us before. It was yummy as usual.

So I made something from a Tasty video.  A Ridiculous Alfredo Thing.

I guess the final question isn’t whether or not you can?  But, really, whether or not you should?  Haha.

I think Lisa’s got one more Alfredo post coming our way!

Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

Happy 2018!

We’re back!  I’m sorry Lisa and I went a little MIA between November and now.  It has been a crazy, crazy fall and winter.  But in an effort to get the new year off on the right track, I decided to just move on a head with January’s challenge: Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo.

I loved this pasta when I was a kid, though, it was usually from Olive Garden or the Old Spaghetti Factory.  It’s not something I will usually order at a nice Italian restaurant.  For my first attempt I decided to go for the classic, full – fat Alfredo recipe that every one loves.  I found this one on Foodnewtork.com  

Right off the bat I was making some small mistakes:  I picked the absolute wrong pot to boil a pound (instead of 12 oz) of noodles.  Instead of pulling out my big stock pot, I used a 2-3 qt saucepan.  It wasn’t a huge problem, but the noodles were overcrowded in the water and so they cooked a little unevenly, some over done, some al dente.

Once they boiled, I strained them and poured some olive oil over top.

While that was boiling I seasoned two chicken breasts with salt and pepper, then cut them up into 1/4 inch strips.  Into the pan with the melted butter.

The pieces of chicken were super uneven in size, which was frustrating for cooking time.  But cooking the chicken in smaller pieces left a little more fat in the pan to work with later.

Once they were cooked through I added the rest of the butter.  Here was another mistake: instead of simply melting the butter, I think it started to cook a little a little too much before getting the brown bits incorporated and then adding the cream.  The butter and cream didn’t want to combine together the way I thought they would.

Whisking the butter and the cream.

Adding the nutmeg.  I decided to forego fresh, and finally had the chance to use some #fancy nutmeg that I’ve had for awhile (and forgot about).   Then the cheese went in to melt.

Dinner is served, with some greens and a little olive oil vinaigrette.

I think my issues with the butter/brown bits/cream and caused some flavor and texture issues with the sauce.  I could be completely incorrect about this, but I thought that the browned bits of chicken would act like a roux or binder for the cheese and cream.  Because everything was too mixed together, when I whisked in the cream and then tossed the cheese in, it didn’t have anything to bind to, and the sauce got a little lumpy.

I did also made the mistake of doing pre-shredded instead of pre-grated cheese, so it was little more difficult to melt.  Next time, I’d cut the chicken into more even pieces for ease of cooking, I mean, in theory this was probably more photogenic, but let’s be real.

I’m not sure what I’ll do next time.  Maybe a ‘diet’ version with zoodles and a healthier sauce?  Let me know if you’ve got any suggestions!

And if anyone can help  us figure out the steps to this sauce we would really appreciate it!  See you next time!

Mashed Potatoes

I have never made mashed potatoes before.  Which is a part of the reason we’re doing ‘Mashed Potatoes’ this month, instead of something a little more complicated.  Also it’s November, which means Thanksgiving and Friendsgiving, and obviously mashed potatoes are pretty central to that.

At some point last year (I think when we were prepping for Friendsgiving 2016 which Lisa hosted and was not featured on the blog) Lisa signed up for American’s Test Kitchen, and being the good friend that she is, she shared her login.  This is an online recipe resource that I trust. I also like watching the show on Saturday mornings on PBS.  I typed in mashed potatoes and returned tons of recipes.  Including the ‘Master Recipe for Mashed Potatoes:’

  • 2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup half-and-half, warmed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • pepper to taste

Place potatoes in large saucepan and cover with 1 inch water. Bring to boil over high heat; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are tender (a paring knife can be slipped into and out of center of potatoes with very little resistance), 20 to 30 minutes. Drain.

Set food mill or ricer over now empty but still warm saucepan. Spear potato with dinner fork, then peel back skin with paring knife. Repeat with remaining potatoes. Working in batches, cut peeled potatoes into rough chunks and drop into hopper of food mill or ricer. Process or rice potatoes into saucepan.

Stir in butter with wooden spoon until incorporated; gently whisk in half-and-half, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve immediately

The America’s Test Kitchen recipes tend to have a few more steps than I’m accustomed to. The flavors always check out, and it’s great that they provide reasoning for why you take certain steps.

Cheap potatoes!

Potatoes post-boil. I’ll def take the skins off pre-boil next time as this was really hot and difficult. I’m also not 100% sure why the recipe included this step. Anyone have insights?

Mashing away! I picked up a grocery store masher, instead of a food ricer. This was a decent workout!

Finished! They were delicious! I might not make them regularly, but I’m so glad I’ve done it once!

Apple Cider Pork Chops

I planned this recipe before I made my “no more internet recipes” proclamation, so I promise I’m not too much of a hypocrite.  Thought this one comes from Pislbury.com, so it’s hopefully one they’ve tested?  If you can’t trust that weird little dough-person in a chef’s hat, well, who can you trust?

Our friend Matt hosted his annual Cidermaking party, and we went down to crush some apples and get some yummy cider.  Lisa couldn’t make it again this year :(.

I brought home some Cider and was looking for a fun way to make use of it, and pork chops always seemed to be paired with some kind of fruit: apricot, pineapple, etc. Lisa scrounged up this recipe for me!

This recipe was super easy!  I still had thin pork chops and made sure to pay attention to the time.  The recipe didn’t specify, and I had both dark and light brown sugar, so I went with dark.

I liked using the one skillet method, and the drippings from cooking the pork chops were a nice addition to the sauce, but it took a little longer.  I wish I’d cooked the sauce on a higher heat from the beginning, and made sure to watch it.  The pork chops ended up getting a little cool before I could cook them.

The sauce was a sharp sweet from the apple with a touch of vinegar from the mustard.

This won’t be added to my go-to recipes, but I might keep it in mind for the next time I’ve got leftover cider.


Parmesan Crusted Pork Chops

Lisa and I have been in the blogging game for a little over two years now (with a 6 month break in the middle). I think we’ve both learned a lot about cooking and blogging.  I have a massive and unwieldy spice collection, I know not to touch certain peppers with my bare hands, and I know how to do some really interesting cooking techniques.

Apparently, though, we haven’t learned not to trust recipe/food blogs.

There’s that assumption that if it’s posted on Pinterest with an artfully stages photograph and a nice graphic, then it’s a good recipe. Or those well-shot recipe videos on Facebook are as easy and delicious as they look.

Now, I will readily admit that a lot of cooking mistakes can be blamed on individual user error, but there’s a reason that cookbook authors test, and re-test, and re-test their recipes.  And that there are entire websites dedicated to ‘Pinterest Fails’

I definitely learned my lesson this time. Instead of linking I’ll just copy and paste it here:

  • 4 boneless pork chops
  • ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2-3 TB Italian breadcrumbs (dried)
  • ⅛ tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • ¼ tsp. pepper

Mix Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, paprika, parsley and garlic powder and place on a plate.

Dip pork chops in the mixture (making sure mixture sticks) and sear in a pan of olive oil on medium-high heat. Sautee for 5 minutes on each side.

Place pork chops in a glass baking dish and cook according to thickness. Ours were an inch thick and we cooked for an hour at 300. If yours are regular thickness, cook at 350 for half hour.

It seems pretty straight forward. And then you notice that it doesn’t call for an egg to help the dried mixture stick. So I ended up with chunks of cheese cooking to the pan. That may have been my choice to use shredded instead of grated cheese, but this is the better ingredient choice, to me.

Or the cooking and baking times. In hindsight I went back and read through the comments and a large portion of commenters automatically reduced the baking time based on their own experience. I messed up when I bought my pork chops and got 4 thin cut chops so I already planned to keep times short. Had I relied on the blog I might have started a fire

In the end, they tasted fine, but weren’t anything special. I’d try it again, maybe with the egg to get the dry ingredients to stick. The strongest flavor was the smoked paprika, which was de-lish.

When we started “Lisa and Janine Try to Cook” our main goal was accountability.  If we were going to cook for 52 weeks, having a recipe we needed to cook and a blog we needed to update every week, would help us rise to the challenge.

We don’t really consider ourselves food or recipe bloggers, who are developing a new recipe or meal to share.  We’re taking you on the ride as we start our kitchens on fire, de-seed pomegranates, and find that roasting whole chickens is not for the faint of heart.

The most important part of this, for me, has been cooking and learning. I’d love to develop the knowledge on how to throw together something for dinner with the ingredients on-hand or know what I need just walking through the grocery store. No recipe needed.

The internet is an awesome resource, but I think I’m going to ban myself from using random internet blogs and posts if I’m trying to learn. I’ll stick to the websites I trust, cookbooks, and friends’ recommendations. Relying on poorly written recipe blogs is not going to help me accomplish my goals and hone my instincts.

If you’ve got any blogs or recipe sources you absolutely rely on and trust, or another resource you can point me to, please leave a comment!

A ‘crock ton’ of tomato soup

When we were kids, my Mom made tomato soup from a can (this was because of her own bad childhood encounter with tomato soup).  It was the Campbell’s tomato soup, and it never, ever tasted good.  As a result, all tomato soup was repulsive to me.

I don’t know when I changed my mind on it.  It was probably some event or dinner, where tomato soup was served, and I kind of had to eat it to not look ridiculous.  Whenever it was, I realized that tomato soup that’s not from a can is actually kind of amazing.

Lisa gave me this recipe for Slow Cooker Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup which combines some of my most favorite foods: tomatoes, cheese . . . well that’s it.  Lisa warned me that it makes a ‘crock ton.’ (haha) And it really does.

Like all crock pot soups, it’s a lot of ‘toss in the pot & cook.’

Diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, onion, basil, garlic, salt, and pepper.  The recipe called for 1 tablespoon of salt and Lisa warned me that it was way too salty, especially when you add a salty cheese like Parmesan.  I am not a salt person at all, so I dropped it down to 1 teaspoon.

Chad, my regular taste-tester, adds salt to everything, and he said the salt level was juuust right.

Cook for 2 hours.  Then I got to use my handy new blender.  I also need a ladle, because transferring the soup to the blender was a bit of a hassle.  Then I whipped up a roux.  I grabbed the wrong measuring cup and added 1/2 a cup of flour instead of 1/4.  I don’t think it caused any real problems.  Finally I tossed in the cheese, which I didn’t measure, so there was probably a little too much. Though, I mean, you can’t really have too much cheese.

On to the grilled cheese.  I’ve never made it before (gasp!) which is a little ridiculous, I know.  For whatever reason it always seemed way too simple to just butter the bread, but it on the pan, add some cheese & flip. I did a whole bunch of googling and decided to just go for some sourdough bread some American cheese slices – don’t judge, it’s the best melting cheese.  Something I read said go for mayo instead of butter so I gave it a whirl – I burns a lot more quickly than regular cheese, but the taste is still amazing.

There was a crock ton so Mom & Dad got some (Mom said it was good!), so did Chad, and I brought some in for another co-worker.

I will absolutely make this soup again, and of course I’ll be living off of grilled cheese from now on.