Sunday, February 28, 2010

Restaurant rant...

Hubby and I ate at a local restaurant the other night.  We had eaten there once before, around New Year's.  The food was very good, except for my dish (that the waitress recommended) which was absolutely horrid.  The other thing was the waitress and her adamant insistence that there was "nothing wrong" with the flat soda that she served my teenage kids "It's an 'off brand'" she said, and refused to even consider getting replacements (What even happened to "the customer is always right"?) Hubby went to get the manager, who then explained that they were having problems with the upstairs soda fountain.  She got us sodas from the downstairs bar which were nice and fizzy.  It was at this point that I realized our server had lied, and perhaps the duck confit manicotti was not the best choice (It wasn't). Which really ticked me off - because when I ask a waiter "What's good?" or "What do you like?" I expect an honest answer. Don't give me an item on the menu that the chef or manager tells you to push because it's not moving or it's getting old . Seriously.  There is no WAY she would have liked that dish she recommended to me.  It was wrong on so many counts.  The restaurant had been opened for only three weeks back then, so we decided to give it another try - perhaps they had worked the kinks out, etc...

Back we went.  Except this time, it was worse.  After I tasted the salad, I wondered if the chef had even tried any of the dishes he was sending out?  I realize that taste is subjective, but honestly...the signature salad of the restaurant should be well...tasty.  When I ordered, I had asked about a seafood dish that had a tomato tarragon au jus.  I was told the au jus was already made, so they could not make the au jus without tarragon, which I hate. This kind of sent up a red flag for me.  A tomato au jus takes about five minutes to make, if you've roasted the tomatoes ahead of time.  Do you think an au jus sitting around for hours stewing on a warmer will taste better, or one that is freshly made and plated right before serving?

Mediocre food is what you expect from franchise chains. Sometimes there are exceptions, but most of the time you go to a franchise with your kids to get a break from cooking, and to get a decent meal. You do NOT expect mediocre food from a restaurant where the bill was $100 for two people, nor should you stand for it. My daughter gave an audible gasp when I told her what I said to the waiter when he asked "How was everything?" I hesitated for a moment, then very nicely replied "Well, do you want me to say it was fine, or do you want me to be honest?"

It seems like we as a society put up with sub par in order to avoid making waves. Why is that? Have we been so conditioned NOT to make a fuss? I didn't cause a scene, I didn't raise my voice, I simply told the waiter why I only had two bites of my main course. And then he agreed with me! Next thing you know the owner comes over, and wants my opinion, since he confesses he has some kitchen woes. I repeat my concerns and opinions yet again. The owner takes the check and says dinner is on the house, then invites us back in a few weeks when hopefully his chef will have his act together.  He said he'd send out 4 or 5 dishes he knows his chef can make well.

Here then, is my "beef" - Why send out dishes you know your chef excels at, and leave the rest on the menu?  Doesn't that make going to the restaurant a crap shoot?  Maybe next time I should just bring a dart, close my eyes,  and throw it at the menu - I'd have the same chance of getting a good meal.

It's sad, because I would love to see this restaurant succeed.  Our little town needs a good, Italian restaurant.  The ambience is great, the service is impeccable (except for that waitress the first time) and the calamari are to die for - light, airy, crispy and tender.  But everything else? meh.  Instead of trying to put a "spin" on something - why not stick to the traditional, and just make good, fresh, regional Italian food? 

I don't  think the food has to be fancy.  It just has to be good.  People will come back, heck I'd even overlook sub par service if the food was amazing.  That's why the majority of people go out to eat.  They want something better than what they can get at home.  My favorite restaurant in Chinatown is a place called Wo Hop's on Mott Street.  The waiters are surly and rude, they have tables put together in long rows that you share with strangers.  But the food is fresh, and GOOD.  Even at 2 am in the morning. If you are ever in NYC, you *must* go there.  (Don't go upstairs - that's for tourists.  You have to go downstairs.) I have yet to find a Chinese restaurant with food as good as Wo Hop's.  Damn you Wo Hop's.

I cook with fresh ingredients as often as possible.  Fresh meat, fresh veggies.  The only thing canned I use are tomatoes, and in the summer, I make my own sauce.  It takes about 10 minutes.  You can definitely taste the difference between fresh and processed food.  Make fresh food in your restaurant (and you would be surprised that some restaurants use frozen entrees), and people will come back.  Keep it simple if you have to.  Taste what goes out of the kitchen.  If you don't have a kitchen that can support "fancy" dishes, don't make them.  Make something good that your kitchen CAN support, even if it means changing the menu.  To me, that's just common sense /shrugs

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Trader Joe's and what is has to do with cooking...and my life.

I love Trader Joe's.  If you happen to be unlucky enough to live in a state without one, I'll enlighten you. (Tina, I'm sorry to tell you the closest one to you is 602 miles away in Santa Fe, NM.  Just tell Robby to gas up the car and take you out there mmm...k? LOL.)

I can't really remember when I discovered Trader Joe's.  However, I've become a fanatic within the past few years.  I would brave the Baltimore Beltway (I don't know which is worse, DC or Balto, but they're both pretty bad - I've lived near both) and drive 21 miles to the one in Reistertown just to get my TJ fix, until they built one in Elkridge, which is a mere 15 minutes from my house.  Just walking into a Trader Joe's you get into a good mood.  Why? Well, I can list a few reasons:

  1. The employees always have a smile on their face.  Seriously.
  2. The employees wear hawaiian shirts - (Now, if they only offered free drinks in a coconut!)
  3. There is not a hint of MSG to be found in any of their products.
  4. Most of the stuff is organic.
  5. It is very reasonably priced for organic/natural food.
  6. They have stuff no one else has (like edamame hummus - Yum OH!)
  7. I love their cheese selection (I am the Imelda Marcos of cheese - unfortunately, my consumption doesn't always equal my purchasing..."ooooh! that looks yummy!" I say, snatch it up, and it's a new science project in my fridge a few months later)
  8. They have some awesomely cute cashiers (I found my daughter's future husband at the local Trader Joe's, but he doesn't know it yet), and the ones that aren't cute, are so friendly you'd swear you were in California - and that makes them cute.
Trader Joe's doesn't have a huge spice selection - but they have Himalayan sea salt, black pepper, and an "everyday seasoning" grinder.

I get my himalayan sea salt there - it's $1.99 for a grinder like this, yet at another organic market, they want $6.99 for the same size jar. holy moly!  The funny thing is, I just figured out what the tops are for - you know those clear, sort of flat lids on top?  I always thought it was to keep the grinder dust free and sanitary.  Well, I'm sure it does that, can also leave the lid on, turn that sucker upside down, and grind your little brains out until you have the amount of seasoning you want (If you are a measuring type of person - which I'm not)  I found this out completely by accident when I wanted about a teaspoon of sea salt to throw on my roasted cauliflower (and omg that is another blog post - but you are in for SUCH a taste sensation!!!!), I grabbed the grinder - and those pink crystals are a little tough to grind...and all of a sudden, a light bulb went off over the top of my head (I swear if you were with me, you would have seen it) and I turned the grinder upside down with the top still on and ground out the amount I needed.  I had to laugh, because after I realized it, it was so obvious!

There you can see some fresh pepper I ground for illustration.  This only works by the way, with those grinders whose tops sort of 'snap' on.   This discovery sort of made my day.  I was very proud of myself for having figured this out - (being the eternal optimist, I chose that route instead of the "omg how blonde can you be to not have known this sooner?!!!" route...)

Any rate, it's a great place to go - if you don't have one near you, go to their website and tell them to get a construction crew out there pronto.  If you DO have one near you - try the goat cheese with cranberries.  If you are hesitant about trying goat cheese, because the name intimidates you, let me assure you, the only part of the goat that's in this cheese is the milk.  It's similar to feta, but when it gets warmed, it gets creamy, which makes it absolutely YUMMY in a seared scallop salad with baby greens and a mustard vinaigrette dressing.  It's a tangy cheese, with a bit more bite than cream cheese.  It's meant to be eaten with a cracker or some fruit, or crumbled over a salad.  This cheese they sell has cranberries around the outside, and is a good choice for someone's first foray into goat cheese, especially if you love cranberries. They also have an onion flavored cheddar which is yummy on hamburgers, apricot stilton, go and have fun trying all the different varieties.  The final thing I will suggest is their edamame hummus

At first I was hesitant to try this, being a hummus purist, but I'm so glad I did.  Paired with pretzel sticks, it's a nice healthy snack alternative to chips and dip!

If you have a Trader Joe's near you, and haven't yet experienced them - what are you waiting for? Hop in your car, stay awhile, have a cuppa joe (on them!) and sample their latest tidbit (free!)  Shop knowing you'll not have to check labels for MSG, the ingredients are natural or organic, and the prices reasonable.  What more could you want?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rosemary, Potatoes, and waxing poetic: Part Three

Since I love to cook with fresh herbs (you get the best flavor from them, really!) I use a chopper - if you don't have one, I highly suggest picking  one up.  I got mine at Tuesday Morning, and it was reasonably priced.

These have extremely sharp blades, so I do not suggest running your finger along the edge to see if it's "sharp enough". Wash the blade by hand, don't put it in the dishwasher, it will dull up. Chop your herbs/spices with a rocking motion

And in a matter of seconds, you have your herbs as finely chopped or as coarsely chopped as you wish

It's really a must-have kitchen tool if you use fresh herbs a lot (which I do) and if you have five thumbs in the kitchen (which I don't, but it makes my life SO much easier).  The board has a shallow indentation, which keeps the majority of the herbs I am chopping IN the bowl instead of scattered on a flat board.  I can chop as little as a few sprigs of rosemary to a whole bunch of parsley, and not worry about fingers being partially amputated, or my hubby cautioning me around knives. 

Hubby has a memory like an elephant.  Back in our dating days, I was over at his apartment making dinner. I accidently cut myself on a knife he had.  It didn't even leave a scar. However, he still remembers the incident and admonishes me every time he sees me wielding a knife. That happened about 22 years ago and I haven't cut myself on a knife since then.  In fact, the only reason I cut myself was because knowing his lack of culinary prowess in the kitchen and the paucity of cooking paraphenalia in his cabinets, I just assumed the man would not own a sharp knife :-P.  Well, he DID have a sharp knife - One.  That I used and cut myself on slicing potatoes.  This knife had a serrated edge and looked like one of those inexpensive steak knives you pick up for like $2 in the supermarket.  You know the kind - with the brown plastic handle? Except it wasn't. (Thank you brother in law Eric who at the time was a college kid trying to make a buck selling Cutco knives on the side).  It lulled me into a false sense of security with its plastic handled demeanor, but in reality you could probably shave your legs in a pinch with a Cutco knife. Luckily it was a minor injury and it didn't even leave a scar, but that still doesn't stop hubby from cautioning me.  Oi.  All the more reason for getting one of these chopping block curvy knife thingies so you keep all your digits away from the sharpiness and you keep hubby/friend/so/parent/roomie from nagging you about the possibility of a trip to the Emergency Room.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Rosemary, Potatoes, and waxing poetic: Part Two

It just seems appropriate at this point to throw in a recipe using Rosemary, since I went on and on and ON about how great it was yesterday.  This is a simple recipe - very, very easy to make, and very, very good.

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes and Onions (Printable recipe HERE)
serves 4 (with maybe some leftovers for the next day)


4 medium potatoes, diced large (this means chunky - obviously the larger you cut them, the longer the cooking time. See the pictures. oh, and use red or yukon gold potatoes - they have the best texture)
1 sweet onion, diced large (chunky!)
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp. sea salt (feel free to decrease this if you like less salt)
Fresh ground black pepper OR Italian Seasoning, OR Seasonello (decrease salt if you use Seasonello)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and toss with your hands - (This does not mean toss at your bf/hubby/so/loved one/kid because they are plucking your last nerve - just toss them around in the bowl to dispense the seasonings evenly  Although last night I was sorely tempted to toss the bowl at hubby AND son :-P.)

3. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake for about 40 minutes or until the potatoes are golden brown and tender. You don't need to turn them.

Serve and adjust seasonings as needed. I've varied them from time to time - black pepper with the rosemary one time, McCormick's Italian Herb Seasoning Grinder the next(This is another absolutely must have in your kitchen - I use this stuff on EVERYthing except cream, but you know what I mean), or even my all time favorite seasoning salt, Seasonello (which you can buy at Amazon- I swear I do not work for these people - it's just a very good deal, and I am passionate about this seasoning. The manufacturers should give me a free trip to Italy for all the blathering on I've done about it...yeah! that's a great idea!). Sometimes I will sprinkle the hot potatoes with parmesean or romano cheese before serving. This is such an easy and good way to serve potatoes! I think they taste better than french fries, and they are better FOR you.

Oh..and if you DO have any leftovers? fry them up in a pan with some eggs for breakfast the next day.  yummmmmy!
Part THREE tomorrow...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rosemary, Potatoes, and waxing poetic: Part One

This is a picture of my rosemary plant out in my garage.  I am nursing it through these winter months in the hope it will survive til' spring.  I put it out when it's sunny, water it a bit, and surround it with garbage cans on cold nights, or pieces of an old rug my hubby is cutting up and getting rid of bit by bit in the trash.  When I lived in Texas I had one in the shape of a tree...but it died.  I bought another one.  It died.  I began thinking that the rosemary didn't like me.  I tried one more time.  It died too.  Now I was beginning to get a complex.  I gave up after a while, figuring perhaps the central TX summer sun was a bit much for it (it was).  When we moved to MD, I bought sprigs of rosemary in the supermarket at $1.99/pop to use in one or two dishes. 

When spring came around, I saw a little rosemary plant in our local garden center.  I touched its leaves, and I swear that plant was saying "buy me".  I did, and lovingly transplanted it into that big pot you see in the picture...and I was rewarded for my kindness.

Rosemary is a wonderfully fragrant plant - it's funny... I tend to think of rosemary in a more personal way than any other herb or seems to me to have a life all its own. For one spreads the love...if I am watering my rosemary, and I touch its leaves in an affectionate gesture, the scent will be on my don't have to force the aroma out like you do with mint, basil, or any other herb - no, rosemary is more generous with their affection - a simple touch is all it takes for it to give you a memento. (Then again, maybe mint and basil are a bit on the kinky side)  If you don't believe me, next time you are in a garden center, touch a few leaves, then tell me if you can bear to leave the plant there. I know that sounds silly and romanticized, but that's how I feel. The flavor it imparts to food is so simple, yet SO GOOD. Toss it with some olive oil, potatoes and onions, and roast them in the oven...sprinkle on some chicken, use it in some bread, some soup, some tomato sauce - rosemary will step up to the plate every time. You can even use it in a sweet bread. It's such a wonderfully aromatic, versatile herb.

A Brief History

The earliest use of rosemary was its association with remembering significant events. Sprigs were thrown into graves by ancient Greeks and Romans to signify their desire to remember the departed. Rosemary was also used in ancient Greece to strengthen the memory. Students wore springs of the herb in their hair when they studied. (I have not tried this, but maybe my daughter or her BFF can experiment and see if this works - they may start a new trend LOL)

In English Tudor times, the bridesmaids gave sprigs of rosemary to the bridegroom. Brides wore it to show they would always remember their families. Rosemary was added to wine which was then used to toast the happy couple and ensure that the toast would come true. Rosemary was so strongly associated with fidelity that if a man was indifferent to the aroma of rosemary it was believed that he was incapable of giving true love. (Tina, wave some under Robby's nose-I think he'll pass with flying colors!)

As far as growing rosemary goes - it's a member of the evergreen family (you know, Christmas trees, pines, firs, the like) and can grow year round.  It likes sun, but can take a bit of shade.  Supposedly you need to bring the plant indoors if the temperatures drop below 30, but mine has tolerated less than that bundled up occasionally in the garage all winter.  Well drained soil, and keep on the dry side, but do not let them dry out completely, especially in the summer.  You can get some varieties of rosemary that will tolerate -15 degrees!  To use, simply cut what you need with a pair of scissors or a sharp knife.

Because of my enthusiasm for rosemary, I assumed that there would be a plethora of poems associated with the fragrant herb.  Alas, I only found one (and it's not a very good one either!):


Beauty and Beauty's son and rosemary -
Venus and Love, her son, to speak plainly -
born of the sea supposedly,
at Christmas each, in company,
braids a garland of festivity.
Not always rosemary -
since the flight to Egypt, blooming indifferently.
With lancelike leaf, green but silver underneath,
its flowers - white originally -
turned blue. The herb of memory,
imitating the blue robe of Mary,
is not too legendary
to flower both as symbol and as pungency.
Springing from stones beside the sea,
the height of Christ when he was thirty-three,
it feeds on dew and to the bee
"hath a dumb language"; is in reality
a kind of Christmas tree.
                                         -Marianne Moore offense to Ms. Moore, but I am not crazy about that poem.  (It's a good thing my son's English teacher didn't pick THAT poem to interpret during their study of poetry.)
Let me see if I can do better:

Ode to Rosemary

Needles that do not prick, rather they amuse with heady perfume – there are no pretenses.
A scent cloying, lingers, as you brush the branches with your fingers.

Waiting patiently for conversation - a snippet here, a snippet there, taken without reservation
The cook talks, the leaves listen, as in the pot the needles glisten.

The masterpiece set upon the table, while praises ring from the guests as their taste buds savor.
Rosemary again, rises to the occasion, as the cook basks in adulation.

Too sappy?

(Part TWO tomorrow-recipe will follow)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Take a leek to dinner tonight!

I like making soup every once in a while for dinner.  Paired with a salad and some crusty bread, it's quick, easy, healthy, and a nice change.

Why do we have to have MEAT with every meal? Who says dinner has to consist of meat, veggie, starch?  Why can't it be soup?

My family has varied tastes in soup.  I like creamy soups that are a bit thicker - but not the gluey paste they call soup in most restaurants or diners.   You know the kind I mean...order clam chowder, and you can take the chowder, put it on some construction paper, and your five-year-old wouldn't know the difference.  If you have some wallpaper that is peeling, you can fix it with that chowder.  Or, you can use it in a pinch if you run out of glue for your scrapbooking.  Ok ok...I may be exaggerating a tad, but you know what I mean.  My daughter loves thick soups, my husband likes thin soups, and my son, he likes any kind of soup, as long as there are no tomato chunks in it, which he will assiduously remove from his bowl prior to eating the said soup. (I'm sure if he could, he would replace the tomatoes with Oreo cookie chunks instead)

This soup is sort of a happy medium.  It's a "just right" soup.  A little thick, a little thin.  You can change the consistency by how much you decide to puree the potatoes.  You want a smooth soup?  Get that hand blender out and blend the heck out of it.  You want it a bit thinner? Leave some chunks.  And leeks happen to be one of my favorite vegetables (I know my English teacher is pitching a fit because I started a sentence with "and").

If you've never had a leek - they are in the onion/garlic family.  It sort of looks like a "scallion on steroids"...

Don't be intimidated by them.  If you love onions, you will adore leeks.  You can make a lot of yummy things with leeks.  Quiche, for instance...soup (like this one), you can grill them (yum!) you can braise them, you can make a casserole of leeks and potatoes...the list could go on forever! 

*Silly little piece of trivia about leeks*  The leek is one of Wales' national emblems (along with the daffodil)

So, here is one of my favorite recipes using leeks.  I'll give you the main recipe - and here's the fun part - If you want "Potato and Leek Soup" just omit the carrots.  If you want "Vichyssoise" (cold potato soup) omit the carrots and spices and chill the soup.  Oh my gosh, I just gave you THREE recipes - and think of how frou frouey you'll look among all your friends if you serve them Vichyssoise (VIH-shee-swahs) for lunch one day with a tossed salad, crusty bread, and some wine? major culture brownie points there!

I got the original recipe out of a very, very, very old cookbook called "French Provincial Cooking".  It was a "fly by the seat of your pants" cookbook, because it really just gave you suggestions...the only real measurements were the vegetables and water.  The seasonings were simply "bouquet garni".  I'll leave some of the language it was written in, I thought it was kind of neat :-)  The recipe is called "Potage Bonne Femme" or translated from French, it's "Good Woman Soup"  I guess if you are a guy making it, you COULD call it "Potage Bon Homme" (Pronounced "PohTAHGE Bohn Fahmm" or "Ohm" in case you are curious - the "g" is a soft "g" like in exaGGerate) or "Good Man Soup".  Either way, it's easy, it's yummy, and there are THREE different variations!

Printable recipe, as always...HERE

1 lb. potatoes diced (about 4 medium) (Don't use baking or Idaho potatoes - use white, red, or Yukon - the baking potatoes have a grainy consistency we don't want)
3 carrots peeled and sliced
2 large leeks washed and sliced up to the light green Leeks grow in sandy soil - they also have a tendency to keep dirt in their leaves - if you are going to use the green part of the leek, the best thing to do is slice the leek lengthwise down the middle and give it a good washing - however, we are only using up to the light green part just where the bulb ends and the leaves begin - you should be fine with just a regular rinsing.
2 Tbs. butter
1 quart of chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 generous sprig of thyme (or about a tsp dried thyme leaves)
1 tsp. dried marjoram
1 tsp. salt
about 20 grinds of pepper
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 cup of half and half (OR...for those watching their waistline - use 1/2 cup of skimmed evaporated milk - all the creamy goodness without the calories!)

1.  Melt the butter in a soup pot on medium to medium low heat, add the leeks and carrots, and cook until the leeks are translucent (remember, they are part of the onion family!) *letting them get hot and thoroughly saturated with butter* (that's from the old cookbook - how quaint is that?) (about 10 minutes)

2.  Add potatoes, broth, salt and a *lump or two of sugar* (I told you it was an old cookbook! about 2 tsp of granulated sugar), and the rest of the seasonings.  (Strip the thyme leaves from their stalk into the pot if using fresh thyme - they come off pretty easily.)

3.  *Cook steadily, but not at a gallop*(The imagery here is amusing...I can just see the pot growing little legs and galloping off the stove) which translated means simmer it until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.  ("How do I know if they are tender?" you ask...simple! Take a sharp knife and poke a potato.  If it falls easily off the knife, it's tender.  The carrots should be easily skewered as well)
4.  Remove the bay leaf.  If you have a hand blender, use one of those and mix the soup until it's the consistency you'd like.  If you like your soup chunky, leave a few pieces of potato and carrot unblended.  If not, go to town!  Taste it for seasoning - add more if needed, and just before serving, add the half and half.

Now...for the variations:

1.  For Vichyssoise :  Omit the spices and the carrots; serve cold, garnish with some chopped chives.

2.  For Potato and Leek soup:  Omit the carrots.
Bon appetit! Mangia! Enjoy!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day

The day of romance.  I hope you cooked your honey the sticky buns for breakfast this morning.  To futher show off your culinary prowess, I offer you a simple recipe that is guaranteed to wow every time.

(Warning:  slightly off-topic rambling ahead)
This was the first meal I cooked for my husband.  Of course, he wasn't my husband back then - he was just a cute guy who I had gone out with a few times (the first date was a picnic in Harriman State Park - I made roast beef sandwiches, home made potato salad, and I think chocolate chip cookies) and I loved to cook. The guy obviously did NOT know how to cook, judging from the cupboards in his apartment (bare except for Oreo cookies, cans of Campbell's Tomato Soup, and tea) and being a sucker for a guy longing for a home cooked meal, I decided to oblige.  I could have sworn I got this recipe out of the "Vegetarian Epicure" cookbook, but I have  looked for it in there numerous times since then, and it's just disappeared.  Maybe because the recipe has shrimp in it, it realized it doesn't really belong in a vegetarian cookbook, and decided to try and find its way to "Kooking Kooky Krustaceans" instead.  Over the years, I'm sure it's evolved, so now it's my recipe and I've adopted it (who wants to be in a cookbook called "Kooking Kooky Krustaceans" anyway??)

This recipe is perfect for a quiet, romantic evening.  It's also perfect if you are exhausted from a busy day at work and feel like you can't do another thing.  It's perfect for company, it's perfect for friends.  Perhaps I should call it "The Perfect Shrimp" instead of "Shrimp-with Honey/Mustard glaze".  This recipe is also perfect for spreading your experimental wings.  Do you like more of a bite? use a hotter mustard.  Do you like it sweet? use more honey.  Taste the sauce.  Don't be afraid to adjust and taste, adjust and taste until you get the hang of it. Remember it's going to be spread on the shrimp, so don't let a strong sweet/tangy taste worry you.  I like an even blend of sweet and tangy, so I use equal amounts of mustard and honey.  I also love curry (remember my post about "Teen crushes and what that has to do with my love for cooking") and there is curry powder in the glaze as well.  This is an extremely hard dish to mess up.  It's absolutely delish.  Serve it with a salad, rice pilaf, and a nice white wine, and you are set.  If you are entertaining, skewer the shrimp, glaze them, cover them and let them sit before your company comes, and have hubby throw them on the barbie.  You can make the salad ahead of time, all you'll need to do is throw some rice in the microwave, and you'll be able to devote time to your friends stress-free.

If you don't have a microwave rice cooker, and you have a microwave, shame on you! It's the EASIEST and most foolproof way to make rice.  You can add spices, broth, veggies to the rice cooker with your rice.   It comes out fluffy every time.  I love my rice cooker!  13 minutes, and it's DONE.  HERE is a link to one that looks almost exactly like mine at  $9.99 well spent!  Kohl's also has one that is similar by Nordicware for about the same price.  Easy clean up, dishwasher safe, and perfect rice - What more could you want?   Plus, there is another perfect opportunity to allow your budding culinary imagination to run wild.  Throw a bunch of fresh chopped parsley in with your white rice - Season it with some Seasonello....or cook it in chicken broth, add some curry powder, finely chopped carrot, and a handful of frozen peas, and serve with curry.  You get the idea! :)  Here is a pic of the rice I made tonight - see? perfect! :)

Ahh...did it again...rambling rhapsodically about rice, when this blog entry is about Shrimp! my bad! Without further recipe for:

The Perfect Shrimp (printable recipe HERE)

1 pound raw extra large shrimp, deveined, shelled (that means shells OFF kiddies!)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup spicy brown mustard (Like Gulden's)
1 tsp. curry powder

Skewer the shrimp on sticks - either kebab sticks, or bamboo skewers you have soaked for at least 20 minutes in water.  Mix the honey, mustard, and curry together, and brush on the shrimp, covering them well with the glaze.  (Side note here:  Use spicy brown mustard - I don't recommend the yellow, it's not flavorful enough to stand up against the honey.  Neither is stone ground mustard, unfortunately. I tried that tonight - It was still very good, except the curry flavor came out a bit more)

Place on the grill glazed side down, then baste the top of the shrimp with the glaze, and again after you turn them ( it will only take about 2-3 minutes for each side - the shrimp will no longer be translucent)

baste again, and baste once more before serving.  Easy!  Enjoy!
*note*I threw the lemon in the ingredients pic, because a) it looked pretty and b) some people cannot eat seafood without lemon, but I suggest tasting the shrimp first - you won't need the lemon - put it in your sweet tea instead! :)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Snow, boredom, Chili - it's what's for dinner...

After being without internet, phone, AND FiosTV for a WEEK (thank you "Snowcopalypse" as they are calling it here in MD) FINALLY back online...YAY.  Here is a totally unrelated to food pic of my patio after the FIRST storm dumped around 30+ inches of snow.  (We got over a foot more three days later)

Luckily I had stocked up on food, and managed to get out the day before the NEXT storm hit.  I had a lot of time to think and plan (and take pictures) for this blog.  My hubby jury-rigged an antenna on our TV, and we DID manage to get the Super Bowl, 24, *AND* American Idol.  Ahh...the simple things in life!

One of my son's favorite dishes is Chili.  He loves my Chili.  That doesn't mean that you will love my Chili.  Chili is one of those dishes (like Buffalo Wings) where everyone has an opinion, a taste, an idea of what the quintessential Chili should be.  I will give you a foundation.  You let your imagination run wild.  I know it's hard, but you can DO it!  Taste, and taste often.  If it seems to be "lacking" something, try and figure out what it is.  If you are a neophyte cook, that might be difficult, but savor the flavor, and try and pin it down - does it need more heat?  Add some hot sauce, or hot pepper flakes. If the Chili is too watery for you - add some cornmeal.  Does it need more "chili" flavor?  Add more Chili powder.  Does it taste kind of flat? Add a bit more salt.  Is the taste too simple?  Throw in some oregano, cumin, whatever - smell the spice...that's what it will taste like when you throw it in the pot.  If you're too chicken to throw it in the pot, take out a spoonful, sprinkle some spice on it, and taste away - of course, you may not feel like eating dinner after this, but you need to start training your taste buds somewhere! 

Here are the ingredients you will need.  Yes...that meat package does say "Bison". (warning...slight offtopic ramble ahead)  I do buy bison meat.   Why?  For a few reasons:

  • It is leaner than beef OR chicken. (yes)

  • It has less calories and cholesterol than either beef OR chicken (yes)

  • Nutritional comparison :  bison meat contains 2.42 g. fat, 143 calories, and 82 mg. of cholesterol per 100 grams of cooked meat. By comparison, beef has 9.28 g. fat, 211 calories, and 86 g. cholesterol. Skinless chicken contains 7.41 grams of fat, 190 calories and 89 mg. of cholesterol. (Bison Central)

  • Bison are grass fed, free range, and have no drugs put in their feed.
You can't taste the difference between ground beef or bison.  I haven't tried the steaks - perhaps that's for another blog post :)  But give it a try - eat healthier without sacrificing taste, and know that your bison was happily chewing his cud the day before he was packaged up for your table. /end offtopic ramble

List of ingredients - by the way, this will serve 3-4 people, depending upon appetite.  If you're young, it serves 3.  If you're old like me, it will serve 4 - unless of course you are my husband, who still eats like a teenager :)  Printable recipe is HERE
  • 1 pound ground beef, bison, turkey, whatever.
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2  tsp. ground cumin
  • 4 TBS Chili powder (yes, tablespoons)
  • 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 TBS tomato paste
  • 1 can Hunts fire -roasted tomatoes with either garlic or green chilis, you choose
  • 3/4 cup beef broth *
  • 1 tsp. salt (for starters)
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce (for starters)
*a little note here:  You can use real beef broth, you can use hot water and dissolve powdered beef broth in it, or you can use Better than Bouillon.  I highly recommend this stuff - it's the best - natural, good tasting, and you can use as little or as much as you want.  Found in the soup aisle in your local supermarket.

1.  First, put a little EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil - yes Rachel, I don't think you've copyrighted this yet, have you?) in a large heavy frying pan, and saute the onions and garlic on medium heat, or until they are translucent.  Then add the ground meat, and cook stirring frequently, until the meat is no longer pink.
2.  Add everything else.  Yup, it's that easy...EVERYTHING else :)

3.  Stir it all up, and it SHOULD look sort of like this:

Now, do your preliminary tasting, and use the guidelines I gave you up above.  Me? after I took this picture I added more chili powder to make it darker.  I could have added more tomato paste too, but that would make it too tomato-ey for me.   Let it simmer for about 10 minutes.  Hopped in the shower you say? no problem.  This Chili can sit on the stove simmering as LONG as you need it to - 15 minutes, half an hour, an hour, 2 hours...doesn't matter...This Chili can take it.  Just make sure if you leave it bubbling merrily on the stove for a few hours that you check and make sure it's not paste - add more liquid (beef broth) to avoid a burnt pot.  Any rate, it should sort of look like this right before serving...

Notice how it got a bit thicker?  Letting it simmer for a few minutes and adding the beans undrained will help thicken up the Chili.  Again, if you like your Chili thicker, add some cornmeal or finely crushed saltines.
And...Wallah! (voila!) Chili!  Garnish with some shredded cheese, or a dollop of sour cream - your call.  Serve with corn chips (family likes it this way) or with cornbread (my preference but I'm outnumbered)  Enjoy!  If you are from TX, you can throw some cilantro or oregano in there as well, but I am not a huge fan of cilantro (sorry Tina!) the flavor is too "harsh" for me.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chicken breasts - who said being flat was a bad thing?

Have you ever made boneless breasts and they were just sorta "meh?"  Maybe a little tough, maybe dry, maybe just not that good?  What if I told you there was a way to get perfect Chicken Breasts every time? That they'd be moist, tender, juicy? How much would you pay for something like that? $40? $30? well, today, I can offer it to you for not $20, not $17.99, not even $10! No, today I am offering you these juicy, tender chicken breasts...for the price of $0!!!!!!!  FREEEEEEEE!!!!!!!! Yes, that's right, and if you act now, I'll throw a second variation in - that's TWO  recipes for the PRICE OF ONE!!!!  Just call the toll-free number on your television screen NOW!

.....Ooops, sorry...I was channelling my inner Billy Mays there for a moment....

But yes, there is a very simple way you can get tender moist chix breasts every time.  (At least, every time I've made them this way they've been yummy) The best part is, you get to vent some of your frustrations - that idiot that cut you off on the highway...that rude store clerk you felt like smacking...that customer that tried to pinch your butt...*insert idiot of choice here*  And again, this is EASY, and very open to variations.  If you hadn't noticed, I like variety.  I love having a good, solid, base recipe that I can "expound" upon.  This is that sort of recipe.  Use regular bread crumbs and serve with lemon? Wiener Schnitzel!  Use regular bread crumbs, add some parmesean cheese and add some basil and oregano? Italian! Panko and Five Spice seasoning? Asian!  Add some parsely, thyme, oregano, basil, marjoram (aka "Bouquet Garni") omit the bread crumbs, saute the chix in butter with the herbs thrown in and add a bit of white wine to the pan as a light sauce and a squeeze of lemon? French!  

Here is the list of ingredients:
  1. 1 pound of boneless chicken breasts (that's about 2-3 halves)
  2. 1 cup of panko bread crumbs
  3. Italian Seasoning (I use that McCormicks' Grinder - LOVE IT)
  4. Salt and Pepper
  5. EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
  6. 1 egg, slightly beaten in a shallow dish.

If you don't have a roll of Waxed Paper in your cabinets, I suggest getting one.   It's cheap (usually around $2) and very versatile.  You can use it to line your cake pans - cut a piece to the size of your pan (trace around the rim) and wallah.  no sticking!  *NOTE - do NOT line cookie sheets with waxed paper unless you want a smoking, yukky tasting mess*  You can also use wax paper if you are say...making chocolate dipped strawberries for Valentine's Day.  The strawberries will dry nicely on the waxed paper, again without sticking.  You can use it to press a flower between two sheets using an iron.  You can use it to roll out pie crust.  Cut a piece the size of your cake - Pipe the decorations (flowers, lettering, whatever) onto the waxed paper template, pop it into the freezer for about 1/2 an hour, then use a spatula to carefully slide the decor off onto the cake exactly where you want it.  Gluing anything? line your work surface with wax paper.  Use a piece of wax paper to shine up your faucets before company comes.  It keeps water spots off them temporarily and they will be gleaming.  Use it to cover something you are reheating in the microwave - no more splatters! My mother always put a piece on top of fresh pudding before putting it in the fridge to make it easy to remove the skin that formed.  And last but not can use it to pound out chicken breasts, and save cleaning your counters and rolling pin. (See, there was a reason behind my ramblings!)

Take a chicken breast and place it between two pieces of waxed paper.  Get out your nice heavy rolling pin (if you don't have one - have your hubby buy you one "just because" or use a wooden mallet.  Don't use a hammer - actually, you COULD use a hammer if you turn it sideways and use it that way)  and start pounding.  Start from one end of the chicken breast, and work your way down.  You want that bad boy thin.  About 1/4" thick or a tad more.  The picture above shows the contrast between pre-pounded and pounded.  Below shows what the breast looks like when you're done.
Do the same with the other two breasts you have.  You can re-use the waxed paper until it starts getting torn.   Now get your egg and bread crumbs ready.  Beat the egg slightly and put in a shallow dish - in another dish put the bread crumbs.  Grind some Italian Seasoning on top - about 20 grinds or so - if you are using dried seasoning in a jar, put about 2 teaspoons, and throw a bit of salt (or if you have it...Seasonello) in with the Panko, and toss lightly with your fingers to combine.

You make want to cut your flattened breasts in half to make it easier to dip and fry them up.  Dip the breast first into the beaten egg, then into the Panko mixture, making sure the breast is coated evenly. 

Heat some EVOO up in a large frying pan - a couple turns around the pan to evenly cover the bottom should do it - you can always add more if need be.  Saute the breasts on medium heat until browned - about 2-3 minutes per side (it does NOT take long) Carefully flip and brown the other side, then keep warm in a 250 degree oven while you finish up the other breasts.

This is what they should look like in the pan when browned.  Add more EVOO if you need to with the second batch to ensure even browning.  Below is what they look like on the plate after you serve them with that yummy asparagus you just roasted in the oven (Recipe from the 3rd)

Enjoy! This is nice enough to serve when company comes, and easy enough you won't be spending all of your time in the kitchen.  Make a small antipasto salad (salami, fresh mozzarella, red peppers, onions, greens, tomatoes with a balsamic vinaigrette - Paul Newman has an excellent one - or...make your own with Good Seasons Italian dressing mix, except use balsamic vinegar instead of white vinegar) serve with a nice Prosecco or Pinot Grigio and voila! you are set!  For dessert, keep it simple - some lemon ice with ginger snaps, or gelato.  Enjoy!! 

This should serve 4 normal people - I'm not counting teenage boys - double the recipe if you are making this for them - or even for husbands/boyfriends/SOs who *think* they are still teenage boys.  :-D

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Veggie Tales

I love veggies.  I was a vegetarian before I met my husband...Back in "those days", the only thing you could get at a restaurant that didn't have meat was Eggplant Parmesean.  I'm surprised I didn't turn purple!  He finally broke me down (or perhaps eating all that eggplant did) and I went back to eating meat.  It's not a mainstay though - when the family has burgers, I grill a portabello mushroom.  I'd much rather eat the baked potato that I serve along with meatloaf.  Oftentimes I will, or take a very small piece of meatloaf.

It used to be that you either served veggies from a can (oh UGH) or you'd plop a frozen block of ice and veggies into a pot and cook the youknowhat out of it until it didn't even resemble its original color.

I try to make all my veggies fresh, with the exception of edamame, which is otherwise known as...soybeans.  I think this has become the "chic" VOTD (Vegetable Of The Day).  Everywhere I look - edamame this, edamame that...Remember how soy products were so popular a few years back? Well soy is experiencing a comeback in their raw form.  If you haven't tried edamame, you should.  A word of caution though...Do NOT eat the pods.  They are tough, slightly hairy, and impossible to chew.  Don't ask how I know...

If you make the edamame in the pod, just boil them and crack some salt over them (or sprinkle some kosher salt) - It's a great snack for movies in lieu of popcorn.  Just pop the seeds out by either stripping the pod in your mouth, or open the pod and eat the seeds that way. (If you are a knife and fork sort of person, you won't like this...just sayin')

The other way to make edamame is to cook the shelled edamame in boiling water for about 3 minutes...Honestly, they're so good plain, I can't see putting anything on them except a little bit of salt.

Again I've digressed :-) This is about how to make yummy fresh veggies - EASILY - and that's in the oven.  In the style of Dr. Seuss "You don't make them in a pot, you don't season them with snot, you don't boil them til' they're pale, if you do, then epic FAIL"  Let's start with something simple - like asparagus.
I'm not even going to list the ingredients, because there's only asparagus, EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil for those of you that don't watch Rachel Ray), and Italian Seasoning. 

1.  Wash the asparagus.  Snap off the tough ends. (Yes, asparagus has tough ends - and each stalk gets tough in a different spot - just hold the stalk in your hand, and snap.  The stalk will break at the point it begins to get tough...Voila! tender asparagus every time with no tough ends!)

2.  Place the asparagus on a cookie sheet, in a single layer.  Drizzle (not drown) with EVOO.  Grind some Italian Seasoning on, and a bit of salt if you prefer.  Toss well with your hands, then rearrange back into a single layer.

3.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 7-10 minutes, depending on how thick your asparagus is.  (Always aim for slender stalks when picking asparagus in the supermarket.)  Remove from oven, and enjoy!!! is where you can get creative...Try this with other veggies - Eggplant for example...or zucchini (cut slices a bit thicker), brussel sprouts(YUK) or ...edamame!  Sprinkle some parmesean cheese on top (or not)  You can even do this with frozen green beans right out of the freezer (fresh take a while to cook - you would have to parboil them) .  You may need to adjust the cooking time, but here is a simple way you can get your "kitchen legs" without really messing up.   You can even do this with fresh carrots, but you will have to raise the oven temp up to 425 degrees, and cook them longer - about 20 minutes, depending on how thick you cut them, and stir them once or twice.

The sky is the limit!  Vegetables are so versatile - don't be afraid to "step out on a limb" and try something new!  You may be pleasantly surprised...and after you make veggies this way, I think (hope) you'll be hooked!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Latest recipe post from old blog site - Sunday morning Simplicity :)

Wouldn't it be nice to stay in your warm bed for a while on Sunday morning? Your body craves something sweet, but the blankets are much too comfortable to disturb - you really don't feel like getting dressed, but getting up and padding to the coffee maker is definitely an option. Who needs Starbuck$ anyway? (sorry Tina! LOL) If you have a grinder and some coffee from The Coffee Fool (They have the BEST.COFFEE.EVER. Just try ONE bag - I promise you, you'll be hopelessly hooked), you are set...but are you? You need something to eat with that wonderful cuppa java. Hmmm...rummage around your cabinets...some stale italian bread...ugh no....cereal? ick...a moldy English Muffin? ummm don't think so...a box of puff pastry in the freezer? check. Brown sugar? check. Nuts? check (you can take that any way you desire) butter? check. Hmmm...I think we have the makings for some awesomely good Sticky Buns. I promise you. très facile. molto facile. muy fácil. Meget let. 아주 쉬운. I don't care what language you speak...any way you say it, these are SIMPLE. And...they're good. yummy good. (before I get off on another language tangent, I think I'll stop)

You need a box of puff pastry. Please do NOT get phyllo dough. It doesn't work. When I first saw these made on the "Barefoot Contessa", I SWORE I heard her say "you can use puff pastry, or phyllo dough". I can't think of any way I may have misheard "phyllo dough" - maybe she said "for the show" or "don't you know"? Perhaps she had a wee bit too much wine (I kid, I kid!), or maybe I just needed to clean my ears out. I bought phyllo dough. When I took it out, I thought to myself "gee, this isn't going to work, this is MUCH too flaky - and maybe I better just fold it up and stick it back in the freezer" but I didn't. That was my mistake. I didn't trust what I know...I trusted what I thought I heard Ina say, because I LOVE her as a chef, and SHE SAID IT SO IT MUST BE TRUE - (didn't some type of parental unit ever tell you "don't believe everything you hear" as a kid?) So, I made them, and laughed when I got these semi-gooey topped, dry, flaky, things-that-belong-in-the-trash. Most cooks will not share their errors with you, because they don't want you to think they can make any. Do you ever see Bobby Flay or Emeril saying " should see how I goofed THIS recipe up the first time I made it!" No, you don't. And I don't think that Gordon Ramsey would EVER admit he was human :-P. I have no such compunctions, because I look at all mistakes as learning experiences. I let my kids know I am human, I let you guys know I am human, and that just makes it all the better. Maybe if we all admitted we were human, we'd be a tad more tolerant of each other...Heads of state saying "Oh, you know, I really overreacted when I said we'd nuke the hell out of you - sorry!" instead of sending 20 diplomats to try and avoid a nuclear meltdown...

The second time I made these, I used puff pastry and they were yummy. They got the hubby seal of approval! I changed the recipe up a bit (sorry Ina, but I think you'd understand, being a chef and all) to make it a tad easier than it already was...And guess what? You get to use your estimating expertise!!! Don't be intimidated, I know you can do it!

I am going to give you the recipe with choc chips and coconut, because I LOVE the combo with the pecans and cinnamon. If you are one of those rare people that can't handle chocolate on Sunday morning, feel free to omit it. In fact, I want you to make the sticky bun of your dreams with this recipe, and post your successes here. We can all learn from each other! :-) Don't feel obligated to use exact amounts either - if you LOVE chips - add more! If you don't like coconut - don't use get the picture :)

Here is what you need: (printable recipe here )

Choconut Sticky Buns (makes 12, but I usually halve the recipe)
  • 12 tablespoons of butter at room temperature (take it out right before you go to bed - unless you sleep for 12 hours, then that's not such a good idea, but - it has to be soft) reserve 2 tbs of this for the filling
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed (this means pack it down gently into the measuring cup)
  • 3/4 cup of chopped pecans
  • 1 package of puff pastry sheets. (not phyllo, not the want sheets)
for the filling:
  • 2 tbs of butter (Do a guesstimation - and leave about 2 tbs of butter/sugar mixture in the bowl - see above)
  • 1 cup of light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 3-4 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, 1/2 cup choc chips, 1/2 cup coconut (more or less)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Get out a 12 cup muffin tin

In a glass bowl ("why a glass bowl?" you say...I reply "because you are going to melt the leftovers") Mix the butter and brown sugar with a tablespoon - you know, the kind you eat soup with.

Now, take a slightly rounded tea spoon(I use a teaspoon from my silverware drawer, not the measuring kind for this step) and plop some into each muffin cup. Leave about 2 tbs in the bowl. If you used too much, take a little out...if you used too little, add some more - Then sprinkle the 3/4 cup of pecans on top of the butter/sugar mixture. Again, if you want less, don't use it all... (you should have LESS than what is pictured - I made this twice, and this is from the first time - waaaay too much buttah, sorry Ina- I adjusted the recipe accordingly, so the amount I have in the recipe is correct)

Now, put out a piece of wax paper on the counter, and gently unroll 1 roll of puff pastry with the folds going from LEFT to RIGHT (that's vertically). Melt that leftover butter/sugar mixture you have sitting in the glass bowl, and brush the entire sheet of puff pastry with it. (You should have some left for the other sheet). Now, making sure you leave a 1 inch border ("Why is that?" you ask, and I reply "Because the filling will move when you roll it up, and the borders allow for that movement") sprinkle the sheet with 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup of pecans, 1/4 cup of coconut, and 1/4 cup of chips. Feel free to eliminate some of those ingredients, or add others, depending on your whims. I would just not recommend dill pickles. Sprinkle the surface with cinnamon. (I don't measure, I just shake it evenly over the surface.) Now, fold over the one edge closest to you and start rolling. It should look something like this:

I have not added the chips or coconut yet.
Roll up the puff pastry jelly-roll style, trying to keep it tight as you do. Trim 1/2 inch off of each end, then divide the roll into six even pieces. (I find the easiest way to do this, is to make a mark in the center, then divide each half into three equal pieces MUCH easier)Now, place each piece spiral side UP into a muffin cup, and press it down slightly like so: Repeat this whole process again for the second sheet of puff pastry. Put the muffin tin on a cookie sheet (to catch any drips) and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top and firm to the touch. Wait only a minute or two, and dump the tin out onto either a piece of wax paper or parchment paper (MUCH easier to clean up, trust me.) and VOILA! you have awesomely good, ooey gooey sticky buns :)

A new home!

I've decided to move my blog to here - more room for pictures,'s free :)  I'll try and transfer over some of the original - meanwhile I'll put up a link to the old blog in the sidebar...