The Mess Hall

Rants and ramblings on all things edible, wearable, doable, or usable with a focus on Home and Health. Home is fun, easy on the wallet, and “gool” for the greatest game of tag ever (Life). Welcome to my home, the Mess Hall. Get in the Mess!

17 Apr

Thinking outside the box, er, round pie pan

Posted in Makin' Food on 17.04.13 by Octopi

Mom and I spent some quality time in the kitchen today. We were focusing outside the box round pie pan and reinterpreted the traditional pie presentation.


Of course we had to bake one traditional-looking pie, though we made one we hadn’t baked before “in the round”: date cream pie.

We also pulled out a bunch of raspberries from the freezer, mixed them up with rhubarb and tried two personal pie iterations. The first was a pasty-style (see the flower-shaped pies in the photo) and the second was a mini-pie in muffin tins.

And finally, we made a family tradition – “apple slices” which is basically apple pie bars.

Yum, all around! Will post other recipes later, but here’s the apple slice recipe we started with because we couldn’t readily find Grandma’s. We used regular old bread crumbs and made our own crust. Also recommend mixing the sugar mix in with the apples rather than just sprinkling on top of the apples.

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15 Apr

Tofu cheesecake fo u

Posted in Makin' Food, Substitutes on 15.04.12 by Octopi

Hello. My name is Melissa and I have a sweet tooth.

Hello. My name is Melissa’s ass and you can tell how Melissa’s willpower has been doing by how large I am.

Yeah, I inherited the dreaded sweet tooth from my Dad. Well, I’ve come to realize that I just don’t have enough in me to deny myself of tasty, sugary goodness. I’ve never subscribed to the idea of eliminating stuff from my diet anyway – I’m more of an everything in moderation kind of gal. Which just leaves the moderating.

So I’m switching stuff out, thinking there have GOT to be some healthier options out there to satisfy the craving….including things, dare I say, healthy/good for you?!

So, tofu. Never baked with it before, so this was a first. This is NOT a vegan recipe, so adjust accordingly if necessary. Inspired by this recipe. It got a thumbs up at a recent gathering of friends, so here goes:

tofu cheesecake


– 8-10 full graham crackers. Stick them in a plastic bag and beat the crap out of them until pulverized. Or if you have a fancy machine for such purposes, have at it.
– 1/4 cup maple syrup
– 1/4 tsp. almond extract (really, just use a little splash or it’ll be overwhelming)
– 1 12-ounce package extra firm silken tofu. Don’t use the refrigerated stuff. Use the stuff in the little boxes or similar. Also, pat the extra water off it with a paper towel or clean absorbent kitchen towel.
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 1 tbl. Tahini or almond butter. I used tahini but next time I’d probably try the almond butter.
– 1/4 tsp. salt
– 1 tsp. lemon extract (I’d suggest trying real lemon and some zest instead)
– 1 tbl. Cornstarch dissolved in 2 tbl
– Small container blackberries
– Spreadable fruit (blackberries)

Makin’ it Happen
– Preheat oven to 350 degrees

– Mix syrup and almond extract into graham crackers.
– Pat the graham cracker mix into the bottom of a (sprayed) 9 inch cake, springform, or pie pan.
– Bake for 5 minutes or so, then let cool for 10 min.

– Mix tofu, sugar, tahini/almond butter, salt, lemon extract, and cornstarch mix.
– Mix until very smooth!!
– Pour mix on top of crust.
– Bake for 40 min (give or take) until pretty firm or edges are light brown.
– Cool (ideally let it cool and spend some quality time in the fridge overnight or at least a couple hours).
– Spread a light layer of spreadable fruit over the top. Sprinkle blackberries on top.

Enjoy! I bet this would be great with some lemon curd on top too.

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21 Aug

Zucchini Magic

Posted in General, Makin' Food on 21.08.11 by Octopi

Every once in a while I get an epiphany about how awesome something REALLY is.  I’ve mentioned kick-ass properties of spinach, and now want to spread the love about zucchini. 

I mean, how many other vegetables can you make sweet AND savory goods with?  This morning I cleaned out the inventory of this splendid veggie at the neighborhood market to embark on a fantastic adventure of tartes AND bread.  This post is a focus on the tarte

You know it’s OK to cut corners when cooking, right?  Cuz it’s taken me a while to be OK with that.  As long as you are in the kitchen whipping up some tasty goodness, it’s totally cool to cheat a little bit and maybe NOT make the crust from scratch or whip up some homemade pesto that you only need 2 tablespoons of in the recipe.  So, without further ado I present…..

Zucchini Tarte With Gruyere Cheese and Herbs (inspired by recipe)


  • 2 lbs fresh zucchini, thinly sliced (4 cups – I had 2-3 monster zucchs, which seemed to be enough)
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced (garlic fiends may want more)
  • Whatever tasty herbs you have laying around the house or are growing for consumption!
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons pesto
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup grated gruyere cheese plus a little extra for topping (or similar cheese)
  • 1 (8 ounce) packages crescent roll dough (cheaters never prosper….except sometimes)
  • This makes ONE tarte – I doubled up to make more…

Makin’ it Happen

  • Preheat oven to 400F degrees.
  • CRUST:  Unfold crescent dough from the tube and press dough evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a tart or pie pan to form a crust, pressing gently to seal any perforations; spread crust with pesto.
  • FILLING:  In a large skillet, saute the zucchini, onion, and garlic in the olive oil until softened, about 10 minutes.
  • Stir in herbs, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool slightly before stirring in the beaten eggs and cheese.
  • Transfer the filling into the shell and spread evenly; sprinkle the top with a little extra grated cheese.
  • For easier clean-up put the pan on a baking sheet in the oven to catch any overflow.
  • Bake at 400 F until set and crust is golden, about 16 to 19 minutes.
  • Remove to a wire rack and let cool slightly, about 10 minutes before removing sides of pan (if using tart pan – you may need to run a knife around sides of crust to loosen).
  • Let it rest another 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
  • Good served warm, cold or at room temperature.  This probably freezes well too.
  • Tasty goodness!

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27 Mar

Get Squash’d

Posted in Makin' Food, Substitutes on 27.03.11 by Octopi

All right, I assume most of you know how to cook pasta, so I’m forcing you to move outside the carb box and get your fill another way….spaghetti squash!  I suspect a part of the reason I’ve kept on extra weight in the past is because I’ve eaten too many carbs.  So I’m trying to shift my diet over a bit with the following general goals:

  • Make carbs a smaller proportion of my overall diet than before.  So if I make pasta with veggies, I’m making sure there are way more veggies than pasta in the dish than there used to be.
  • Try to use some alternatives to carbs.  Using zuchinni instead of lasagna noodles is one example (see previous post on how to go about that).  Spaghetti squash is another such option.  You can use it as a base instead of regular pasta noodles!  Or if you’re not ready to take the full plunge, substitute half the pasta with the spaghetti squash. This is actually what I did because I was trying to eat up some pasta in the house.  There is no set rule on how to go about this….a little change at a time is totally awesome, and probably a more sustainable lifestyle/diet to maintain over the long run.


So here’s a little 411 on how to on how to cook spaghetti squash.

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26 Mar

Veggie Lasagna – and Bechamel Basics

Posted in Makin' Food, Substitutes on 26.03.11 by Octopi

My friend T posted on FB a delic-sounding dinner she had whipped up that included bechamel sauce.  Bechamel is a white sauce that includes the roux (a fat like butter or olive oil combined with flour, stired over medium heat for about five minutes until the mixture has a texture resembling wet sand, according to this NY Times article) and a liquid like milk.  The following bechamel recipe is from the same article – the writer (Martha Rose Shulman) does a great job of explaining….



  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot or onion (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups low-fat (1 percent) milk (I had some cream to use up so I used 1 1/2 cups milk and 1/2 cup cream)
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground white or black pepper
  • Optional:  mushrooms, etc.


Makin it Happen

  • Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy medium saucepan. Add the shallot or onion, and cook, stirring, until softened, about three minutes. Stir in flour, and cook, stirring, for about three minutes until smooth and bubbling but not browned.
  • The paste should have the texture of wet sand. Whisk in the milk all at once, and bring to a simmer, whisking all the while, until the mixture begins to thicken.
  • Turn the heat to very low, and simmer, stirring often with a whisk and scraping the bottom and edges of the pan with a rubber spatula, for 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and lost its raw flour taste.
  • Optional: I also added some chopped, cooked canadian bacon (I added just four- five slices that I needed to use up) as well as a couple cups of sliced mushrooms
  • Variation: Substitute vegetable stock for the milk for a vegan version of this sauce


Veggie Lasagna

Well, it’d be veggie-only lasagna if I didn’t put the chopped canadian bacon in the bechamel – it was only a few slices so mainly for flavoring (I’m trying to use meats as more of a flavor enhancer rather than a main ingredient).  Close enough.  Here’s a lasagna that uses strips of zucchini instead of lasagna noodles.


  • 3 small-medium sized zucchini, cut into strips (so they look like small lasagna noodles)
  • 1 can peeled, stewed tomatoes (sliced)
  • 1 bag of spinach
  • cheese, shredded (I used asiago)
  • 8 fingerling or small red potatoes, sliced
  • olive oil
  • bechamel (see above)


Makin it Happen

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Cut potatoes into slices.  Drizzle olive oil over a cookie pan, place potato slices on the pan, and bake for 30 minutes.
  • While the potatoes are baking, get the bechamel going.  Once that’s been cooked up properly, you can turn your attention to the spinach (or if you’re really got a handle on the bechamel, slice up the zucchini between stirs.  Don’t burn the bechamel on the bottom of the pan though, or you’re screwed). 
  • If you get the spinach that can be steamed in the bag, do so as per directions on the bag.  Otherwise, steam until wilted.
  • Brush the sides of the casserole dish with olive oil.
  • Once the potatoes are out, pour about 1/3 of the bechamel sauce into a casserole dish.  Start layering your veggies, starting with a layer of zucchini, followed by a layer of potatoes, repeat.  Add the can of stewed tomatoes (the whole thing) in the second layer.  Be sure to have enough zucchini slices left for the top.  Pour some more sauce over the dish (get those mushrooms in there!).
  • Keep going until you’ve used everything up.  At the end pour the last of the sauce on top and top with shredded cheese.
  • What I did: Cover and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  Then uncover and bake another 20 minutes.  What I’ll try next time: Because I used zuchinni instead of lasagna noodles, the final product ended up being a bit runny.  I think next time I’ll bake uncovered the whole time (waiting to put the cheese on until after the first half hour of baking) so the oven can dry up some of the juices as the zucchini cooks.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

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13 Mar

Crockpot Curried Chicken (also, curdled curry: learn from me people)

Posted in Makin' Food on 13.03.11 by Octopi

I love my crockpot. LOVE it.  I respect the multi-tasking opportunities crockpots present.  Thing is, it becomes this seasonal thing where I don’t really use it except wintertime b/c I make typically make soup or stew or soup stew (is that a thing?).  So I’m on a mission to find some things I can probably enjoy when it’s not 30 below zero with two feet of snow on the ground.  First up… Crockpot Curried Chicken (with ginger and yogurt).  Be sure to look below the recipe for an important after-school message about cooking with yogurt (and potential curdling).


  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbl curry powder
  • 1 tbl fresh ginger, grated (OK, I may have put in more like 2 tbl)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs chicken
  • 1 1/2 cups rice
  • 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt (mix in a teaspoon of flour to it before adding in to the mix)
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced (I chopped up the whole bunch cuz otherwise I’d probably waste the rest)
  • a couple bell peppers (gotta got those veggies in there!)

Makin It Happen

  • Dump all the veggies and onion in the crockpot.  In a separate bowl, whisk tomato paste, garlic, curry powder, Ginger, cumin, and 1 cup water (maybe less water if you don’t put a lot of veggies in with the chicken).  Place chicken on top and pour the tomato paste mix over the sop.  Season with salt and pepper.
  • Cook on low 7-8 hours or high 3-4 hours. (I had it on high for 4 hours)
  • Cook rice before serving
  • Just before serving add yogurt and more salt to taste to chicken and stir to combine. 


Curries with Yogurt: Warning

  •  The yogurt curdled when I added it, which I was greatly annoyed by, but the curry was probably annoyed at me for being stupid and putting the yogurt in when the concoction was still piping hot. 
  • The interwebs offer several suggestions to avoid this.  1) Add a teaspoon of flour or cornstarch to the yogurt before putting it in and that should help avoid the curdling from occurring.  2) Use a higher fat yogurt (I was using Greek yogurt, but it was a low-fat kind). 3) Let the curry cool off a bit before you put the yogurt in.  I was impatient and put it in right away. 
  • If it does curdle, it’s still OK to eat (all the curds are is small bits of yogurt cheese) so just suck it up and eat it rather than let it go to waste and remember to try one of the above suggestions next time!

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06 Mar

The Great Mango Massacre….

Posted in Makin' Food on 06.03.11 by Octopi

The Great Mango Massacre….or how to cut a mango.

Mangos are in season (well, not locally, but world-wide) right now and all over grocery stores.  I bought a couple and made two rather pathetic attempts at cutting them up.  I used a potato peeler to peel the skin away since the skin is kind of toxic and disgusting.  Well, that left me working with a slimy mess to try to cut up.  Then I couldn’t figure out how to deal with the seed in the middle.  The experience left both me and the mangos in a sad state of affairs.  Alas, the interwebs to the rescue! (I did some extensive research – a couple of You Tube videos).  Thinking the world could surely use even MORE “how to cut a mango” You Tube videos, I present the following.  So read on….or watch on, as the case may be.


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20 Feb

Rosemary Turkey Meatloaf

Posted in Makin' Food on 20.02.11 by Octopi

Got this one from a work colleague.  Yum!  Thanks T!


  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 2 cups dry bread crumbs
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary (or dried, whatever)
  • fresh parsley, about 1/4 cup
  • 1 cup canned tomato sauce (or ketchup)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Makin it Happen

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  • In a large mixing bowl, mix together the ground turkey, bread crumbs, onion, egg and milk.
  • Season with balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and rosemary.
  • Press into the prepared pan.
  • Blend together the tomato sauce, brown sugar and mustard; pour evenly over the top of the loaf.
  • Bake for 1 hour in the preheated oven, or until juices run clear when pricked with a knife.


Tips and Tricks

  • I baked some of the meatloaf in individual-sized pyrex containers for easy freezing for lunches. 
  • The sauce was pretty sweet.  Next time I’ll probably cut down on the brown sugar a bit and up the mustard for a bit more of a kick.

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04 Feb

Who you callin shrimp?

Posted in Makin' Food on 04.02.11 by Octopi

Many years ago I found a recipe for cooking shrimp on recipezaar (now I loved it but it was such a pain in the ass to make because I had to dig out my entire seasonings cabinet to make it happen.

Then I had an “aha!” moment that turned this recipe into one of the fastest recipes to make.

I simply super-sized the seasonings mixture – sextuple or decuple (word of the day = 10 times!) and store it in an old seasoning container.

So here it is. It’s supposedly modeled off a recipe from Chile’s but I’ve never had it at Chile’s so don’t have a comparison.  Also, I was pretty lazy when making it this last time, so I’ll note what I DIDN’T include that is typically included in the recipe.

Spicy Garlic & Lime Shrimp


  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed (didn’t include)
  • 24 fresh large shrimp,  peeled (about 1 pound)
  • 1 lime (didn’t include)


Seasonings (Single Batch, if you just want to try it out)

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon onion powder


Seasonings (6X, if you’re ready to whip up a batch for future use)

  • 4 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3/4 teaspoon onion powder


Makin it Happen

  • Melt butter in pan
  • Add garlic and shrimp
  • Squeeze lime juice over the pan
  • Sautee for 5-8 minutes or until shrimpies are all pink
  • Cook both sides of the shrimp!


I like to serve this over pasta.


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29 Jan

Café Latte’s Chicken Salsa Chili

Posted in Makin' Food on 29.01.11 by Octopi

My friend J clued me in on this recipe. It’s a bit of a different take on a traditional chili and it is AmaZING with a capital A and a big ZING at the end.  Thanks J!

Café Latte’s Chicken Salsa Chili


  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces (I had frozen chicken breasts so I just put them in whole and cut them later after they’d been cooked)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions (a large onion)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic (I used three cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh jalapeno chili peppers (I didn’t use the seeds)
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock (I put in three cups because I was started with dry beans)
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder (I used 2 1/2 because 3 seemed like a shit ton)
  • 1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes, undrained and broken up
  • 1 can (29 ounces) tomato puree
  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) dark red kidney beans drained (I had dry beans, soaked them for a number of hours before I dropped them in the crockpot. If you put them in dry, just make sure to add some extra water.
  • 1 can (15 ounces) hominy (hominy is white corn. I could only find 28 ounce cans so I used it all)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • Tortilla chips
  • Cheese


Makin It Happen

  • Dump everything into a crockpot except the cilantro and lime juice. I cooked mine on low for six hours.
  • At the end add the fresh cilantro and lime juice.  These two ingredients MAKE the recipe. It is so damn good.  Do NOT skip these ingredients.
  • To serve, crush some tortilla chips on top and add a little shredded cheese on top.  I had chihuahua cheese and that tasted fantastic. 
  • You could skip the chips, add some sour cream, whatever your little heart desires.


Tips and Tricks

  • Here are the original cooking directions if you have unfrozen chicken and canned kidney beans.  Pretty quick cook.  I think either way is fine.
  • Warm olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Sauté chicken until cooked. Add onions and reduce heat. Cook for 3 minutes or until onions are tender.
  • Add pepper flakes, garlic, jalapenos, chicken stock, chili powder, tomatoes and tomato puree, kidney beans and hominy. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes

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