Take life’s lemons and make shortbread cookies, fancy ice cubes and more

Life sure has handed us a big pile of lemons. (Photo by Flickr user jules via Creative Commons)
Life sure has handed us a big pile of lemons. (Photo by jules/Flickr Creative Commons)

The year has turned sour. Unfortunate events have bombarded me, my family and friends as we crawl toward the end of 2014. The challenges have been as small as an overweight pug stealing a cookie from my two-year-old niece (I’m watching you, Sampson) to a good friend’s cancer diagnosis right before the holidays. It’s enough to make even the most steady person shake their fist at whatever god in which they believe.

A few years in adulthood have given me enough wisdom to know that life is a series of obstacles that sprout at the most inopportune moments. But these years have also planted enough optimism in me that I am determined to demolish life’s challenges with the tenacity of an American Gladiator contestant.

With the spirit of perseverance in mind, let’s turn life’s lemons into some awesome stuff. Here are some suggestions for what to do with the literal lemons in your life. And regarding those figurative lemons, we’re all going to be OK.

Bake these delicious lemon-pecan shortbread cookies
Lemon-pecan shortbread cookies. Survey says: YAAAAS.
Lemon-pecan shortbread cookies. Survey says: YAAAAS.

My baking game is strong around the holidays. These went over well at a tree-trimming party I attended. Find the pretty simple recipe here.

Make a get-well-soon hot toddy
Nice for a cold, chilly night. (Becky Stern/Flickr Creative Commons)
Nice for a cold, chilly night. (Photo by Becky Stern/Flickr Creative Commons)

This recipe had me at bourbon. I guess some lemon and honey wouldn’t hurt a sore throat, either.

Whip up a batch of frozen lemon slices
Perfect for a bourbon on the rocks. (Photo by bestlexever/Flickr Creative Commons)
Perfect for a bourbon on the rocks. (Photo by bestlexever/Flickr Creative Commons)

Slice a lemon into pieces small enough to fit into an ice cube tray. Pour water over the slices and let it freeze. Use these cubes with iced tea, a bourbon on the rocks or a glass of water so you get a little treat when the ice melts.

Freshen your garbage disposal
Use an extra lemon to freshen up around the kitchen. (Photo by Nick/Flickr Creative Commons)
Use an extra lemon to freshen up around the kitchen. (Photo by Nick/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Kitchn has a great tutorial about how to use lemon and vinegar to freshen up garbage disposals and blenders. I use this trick every couple of months.


What are your tips for using the lemons in your life?

Don’t sleep on Aldi for your holiday baking needs

Pineapple thumbprints were the first cookies of this holiday season in the Thompson house.
Pineapple thumbprints were the first cookies of this holiday season in the Thompson house.

Three years ago, I started a Christmas tradition by accident.

It was a bittersweet holiday season. I had just started a new day job, but the first paycheck hadn’t come in yet. I was also freshly married, so my family tripled in size. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I wanted to do something nice for my relatives.

That November and December, I baked and baked and baked. Batches upon batches of sugar cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, chocolate chip cookies and double-chocolate cookies filled my freezer. Cookie sheets and parchment paper were my faithful companions, along with a dog eager to catch batter that flew out of the mixing bowl. And bless my poor oven’s heart — that thing really earned its keep that winter.

Fortunately, the cookies were a hit. And to keep up with my annual holiday baking, I’ve turned to one of my favorite retailers — Aldi.

I’ve shouted my love of this bargain grocery store on the blog before. This year, I realized Aldi is the perfect place to stock up on baking essentials at low prices. The center aisle at the Dixie Highway location was filled with Christmas goodies and odds and ends, like a bag of teeny Andes Mints for cookies or a whole pumpkin pie kit.

Here’s a look at some of the baking goodies I snagged on my last visit:

  • Molasses for my gingerbread men*: $1.99
  • A four-pound bag of sugar: $1.39
  • A bag of pecans for my shortbread cookies: $2.99
  • A tube of Betty Crocker icing for aforementioned gingerbread men: $1.99

Now that I have all of my ingredients, it’s time to get back to baking. If you’re interested in hitting up Aldi’s baking supplies, Aldi is located at 3442 Preston Hwy., 5109 Dixie Hwy. and 4301 Bardstown Rd. in Louisville. There are also southern Indiana locations at 3131 E. 10th St. in Jeffersonville and 3118 Grant Line Rd. in New Albany.

Just remember to bring your quarter.

*Gingerbread people? I’ve watched all of Transparent on Amazon Prime, so I want to use the preferred gender identity of my cookies.

Forget recaps. Here are 10 ways I will rock my foodie life in 2014.

Is 2013 already over? 

There’s so much food I didn’t get to. So many recipes I didn’t try. So many things I didn’t write about.

As this blog post title indicates, I’m not going to spend my time recapping. I like to take the occasion of a New Year to look forward, not back. I like having things to look forward to — new goals, new adventures, new restaurants.

Here’s a collection of some of the things I’d like to accomplish in life and on this blog in 2014. Let’s not call this a list of “resolutions” — I’m allergic to that word because it sets me up for failure by March. How about this handy dandy headline:

10 Ways I Will Rock the Glasses off 2014

1. I will not be such a beast before I’ve had my first cup of coffee. 

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...
My life blood. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To those mighty giants who can operate without a hot splash of caffeine, I salute you. I have an addiction, and I can be pretty mean if coffee doesn’t hit my lips before 9 a.m.

2. I will finally complete my $10 Challenge on Simply Thai

Short rib nachos.
Short rib nachos at Mussel & Burger Bar. Now if only I can get to Simply Thai…

Remember when I had the reader’s choice Challenge? I sampled one restaurant, Mussel & Burger Bar, that you guys selected. The other, Simply Thai, has been outside my grasp lately, because of a busy schedule and long waits. That ends in 2014, friends. I’m going to make this happen.

3. I will make an edible batch of biscuits. 

One of my unsuccessful batches of biscuits that was transformed into stuffing.
One of my unsuccessful batches of biscuits that was transformed into stuffing.

I consider myself a pretty good cook and a decent baker. I can’t, however, make biscuits if my life depended on it.

4. I will accept the fact that pizza, no matter how many vegetables I pile on top, does not count as a well-rounded meal.

The Chicken Peppadew pizza at Boombozz in Westport Village.
The Chicken Peppadew pizza at Boombozz in Westport Village.

This is going to be a tough one. I will, however, eat pizza at Loui Loui’s Authentic Detroit Style Pizza, Bonnie & Clyde’s Pizza Parlor and Angilo’s Pizza. These places need some more love and attention, and I’m the lady to give it.

5. I will become more efficient at using chopsticks.

I'm this close to eating these with my hands.
I’m this close to eating these with my hands.

Also, I will eat more sushi because IT IS DELICIOUS.

6. I will stop giving my dog, Roscoe, so many table scraps.

He's very food motivated, especially when it comes to Moby Dick.
He’s very food motivated, especially when it comes to Moby Dick.

I know, I know, this is bad news bears, and I don’t recommend it. But if you see these puppy eyes looking up at you, it’s hard to resist sliding Roscoe a bit of pork chop.

7. I will wait to eat long enough to post more pictures on Instagram and Facebook.

Ahh, the wonders of Instagram. Doesn't the app make this corn dog look delicious?
Ahh, the wonders of Instagram. Doesn’t the app make this corn dog look delicious?

This feels counterintuitive. I know that most people make fun of folks like me who take pictures of my meal and plaster them all over social media. But I’m a food blogger, darn it. I gotta show you what I’m eating. I just have to pause long enough to snap a pic. When a full plate is put before me, I lose my mind and dig in.

8. I will take pictures using my good camera, not the crappy one on my phone.

Taquitos and sweet potato fries at Mussel & Burger Bar.
Taquitos and sweet potato fries at Mussel & Burger Bar.

Let this picture speak 1,000 words.

9. I will eat correct portion sizes.

The meatloaf special at The Irish Rover.
The meatloaf special at The Irish Rover.

For example, not eating all of the plate above in one sitting.

10. I will keep my commitment to exploring good, inexpensive food in Louisville.

Cheers to a New Year.
Cheers to a New Year.

Happy New Year, y’all.

When life gives you hard biscuits, make some hearty stuffing

During the weekend, I had some flour, butter and a lot of time on my hands.

This meant that I had to try the fluffy biscuit recipe from one of my Pinterest boards.

Two hours later, I was left with a double sink full of dough-covered dishes and some dense biscuits.

An accurate depiction of the consistency of my biscuits. Photo courtesy Straaf via Flickr.

I hated to waste food, especially a dozen biscuits that took used three cups of flour and a stick of butter. I considered giving them to Roscoe, but he said he was watching his cholesterol.

Then, I remembered what someone once told me about bad cornbread — a terrible batch can be the base for a great stuffing dish.

I applied that cornbread reasoning to my biscuits. I found a recipe in the Kentucky Fresh Cookbook for a basic stuffing (or dressing, whatever you grew up calling it) and substituted the biscuits for the stale bread. The biscuits, which could have doubled as paper weights, transformed into this:

Stuffing or dressing? I just call it "good."

Don’t give up on a bad dish because it didn’t turn out the way you wanted. Just improvise — and be willing to make a mess.

Cooking tip: Freeze your dough ahead of time to ease holiday baking

The depths of my freezer.

This will be a homemade Christmas season for the Ashlee Eats empire.

I’m making a lot of gifts for my family and friends this year, so they should expect lots of [SPOILER ALERT] baked goodies.

But next week, I will start a new day job*, and I have seven people and counting for whom to bake dozens of cookies. When will I have the time?

The Kitchn, my favorite food blog, answered that question in this post about freezing cookie dough.

You can save lots of stress later by taking advantage of the free time you have now by doing the heavy lifting now. Here’s how, according to The Kitchn:

  • Prepare your cookie dough according to recipe directions.
  • Roll dough into little balls and place on a cookie sheet.
  • Place the cookie sheets in the freezer for about an hour or until the dough balls are frozen.
  • Pop the dough balls into a freezer bag. Don’t forget to write the name of the cookie, the date the dough was frozen and baking instructions.
  • Whenever you’re ready for the cookies, bake as normal with a couple of extra minutes added on to the baking time.

I’ve baked three batches of cookies so far that are sitting pretty in my freezer. I will also bake a cake or two ahead of time and freeze them for later, another tip I got from this post at The Kitchn

Has anyone else tried baking ahead of the craziness of the holidays?

 

*Yep, after six months of unemployment, I got a new job at Humana. Read more about it on my Twitter feed and look out for a blog post in the next few days.